Saturday, June 25, 2011

My Ultimate Spiritual Workout

As mentioned in my last post, I spent five days on a silent retreat out at Loyola on the Potomac in southern Maryland.

Oh, yea, feel the burn.
Well, ladies and gentlemen... was I in for my own personal spiritual workout. It was way above yoga and Tae Bo level... it was like the P90X of spiritual workouts - at least for me.

It was obvious to me on the first day that I had absolutely no idea what I had gotten myself into. While I was expecting to receive insightful answers going into this retreat, many of my prayers were not answered in the way I expected. However, I did manage to "tone" my spiritual life in this ultimate spiritual workout.

Silence teems with sound if we take the time to listen.
One hears the cries of fears that need calming;
One recognizes love that is smoldering;
One learns to bridge the gap between lack of trust and a vibrant faith.
Silence is not void; it is pregnant with life.
Lord, I will meet You there,
in the silence of my heart. Amen
Most of my memories growing up are surrounded by noise. I have three younger sisters, so you can imagine what daily life was like in my household. When I went off to college on my own, it only seemed to get louder. I always seemed to live in the dorm room right by the stairwell, so even my sleep was disrupted by noise, especially late at night on the weekends. Due to a scholarship, I ended up with a single room my junior year, and I found myself constantly turning on the TV or listening to music or keeping the door open to the hallway or all three at once, because the silence was deafening to me.

So to force myself to be silent for five days, and to be surrounded by twenty other people who were also being silent... well, you can imagine how disconcerting it was to be in a place where you only hear the scraping of forks on plates and the wind through the trees.

Make sure you play the rests properly.
Oh, how I longed for my iPod! To be able to click on the TV for background noise! To pick up the phone and call a friend just to hear a voice! Even to say a simple, "Hello," to people when we play the awkward "which side of the stairs are you going to walk on" dance. I realized how much I have come to depend on using noise to drown out the silence in my life, because there was something about silence that has always scared me. I found myself playing my own soundtrack in my head on my retreat to fill the silence, usually songs related to Scripture passages I was reading, but I noticed that I have needed noise even in my prayer life.

But in the silence, there is a lot to be discovered, and it's not always easy to find. Sometimes, it is only in the silence that we can truly let our guards down and acknowledge what we've really been longing for and missing in life. That isn't to say that God doesn't speak through noise - because He has many times in Scripture (for example, when He speaks to Moses in thunder and lightning, trumpet blasts, and fire on Mount Sinai in Exodus 19), and I have also felt God speak to me through the noise which I constantly surround myself. On the other hand, sometimes He can reveal so much more when it is just you and Him and nothing else. Elijah went up on the mountain in search for God, and he expected to hear Him as Moses did - in tumultuous noise. Yet even though he encountered wind, earthquakes, and fire, he didn't hear God in any of those events. It was in the "sound of sheer silence" where Elijah heard God speaking to him (1 Kings 19:11-12). I can only imagine Elijah's surprise and how thrown off he must have been!

But sometimes God teaches us something about ourselves when we have only silence surrounding us. I mentioned that I had an internal playlist playing in my head throughout my retreat. One of the many songs that kept coming into my head was Matt Nathanson's Come on Get Higher. He starts off the song by saying:
I miss the sound of your voice...I miss the still of the silence as you breathe out and I breathe in...
and continues in the second verse:
I miss the sound of your voice, the loudest thing in my head, and I ache to remember, all the violent, sweet, perfect words that you said.
While this song is not Christian, and we assume that he is singing about a lover, I've always been attracted to this song as more than just talking about a human relationship. To think of God as a lover, to miss the sound of His voice, to miss feeling His breath in the stillness - to feel all of this and only wish to "get higher" and be close to God once again. I think for me to begin to realize how much I missed the "sound" of His voice, I had to come to grips with the silence, tune out all the noise, and just be.

Filling My Time

Similar to constantly surrounding myself with noise, I have always tried to keep busy. Growing up, I was lucky enough to be able to be involved in Girl Scouts, work on the yearbook at school, take music lessons, and play softball. Into high school and college, I added on band rehearsal, football and hockey games, fraternity meetings and events, volunteer activities... oh, and I studied a lot. I sometimes look back and wonder how I slept the first 22 years of my life. When I did manage to get some free time to relax, I usually just ended up on the couch. My parents can most definitely affirm this, as I spent the three months between undergrad and graduate school laying on the couch... I did have four years worth of relaxing I needed to catch up on!

When I moved to DC, I had a hard time adjusting because I lacked things to do... so I slowly started to fill my schedule with activities. Band rehearsal and concerts, being a Girl Scout leader, attending a Bible study, and tutoring a lot. Slowly, I started to make friends, and began to fill up my time with spending time building strong Christian friendships. As I became more comfortable, I kept adding things onto my plate with coordinating and cooking for our weekly Newman Center dinners and planning fellowship events for graduate students. It got to the point where, again, I had something pretty much every night. When I would have a night off, you could find me on my couch, but still keeping busy with catching up on my TV shows, reading blogs, or making some sort of craft. 

So, you can see that I like to fill my time with noise and something to do. Now imagine this girl, who loves to always be doing something on a five day retreat.

The first day of my retreat, I went to bed at 10 PM... the earliest I've gone to bed in yearsOh, did I mention that I also took a two hour nap that day? I don't ever take naps. Why did I spend so much time sleeping? I was bored. I couldn't watch TV. I couldn't listen to music. I couldn't hang out with my friends. I couldn't even pretend to do work. Sleeping seemed the only cure for filling my time. This, for the most part, continued to be my pattern for the first few days.

What I failed to realize in the first few days was the lack of things to do was the point. To put away all distractions - forcefully, I might add - to focus on what often gets pushed to the side - time with God.

I've found, especially recently, that when I get some time off after a busy or stressful time, I take a vacation from life. Unfortunately, this means I also take a vacation from God. I don't go to Mass as often, I hardly take time to pray, I listen to less "good" music and jam out to more "bad" music, and I spend my time watching TV, shopping, sleeping, etc. Even though I have ample time (especially now while I search for a job), I often find that I put off spending time with God for later.

My view of the sunset each night.
What I came to realize on my retreat was that finding some time to relax doesn't mean taking a vacation from everything. God is not work, in the sense that it's hard work to cultivate a relationship with Him, but it is work that we should enjoy. Working on my relationship with God needs to be a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year kind of job. I don't get two weeks paid vacation from God time. I don't even get sick days. If I take a leave of absence, it is unpaid and when I do come back to "work", I have to spend a lot of time catching up from being away.

In trying to discover how to fill my time on this retreat, I saw that God needs to become my vacation from the hustle and bustle of life. He needs to be my sunset on the beach. He needs to be my time relaxing on the couch. He needs to be the kind of feeling I get when I can sleep in without having to set my alarm (trust me, it's a good feeling!).

When I began to realize this and started to treat God as my vacation, I suddenly found a lot of things to do on my retreat. I spent hours sitting in the chapel. I sat outside each night and watched the sun set over the Potomac. I read more Scripture than I have all year, and found a number of books to also enjoy, including C.S. Lewis, lives of the saints, and The Jeweler's Shop by Pope John Paul II. I walked around the grounds while meditating on things I had read. I started off each morning with a prayer in the chapel and finished each night with the same thing. Most importantly, in finding all these things to do, I tried to always unite my time with God. I started to find God in the stillness of daily life. I started to feel rejuvenated, alive again, which is exactly what vacations are for. Now my daily spiritual workout is to remember to take a vacation with God each and every day.
Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything. (Pedro Arrupe, SJ)
Letting Go

Imagine that someone has a firm grip on your arm. You try to pry off their fingers one by one, but as soon as you get a couple to release their grasp and move on to the next one, the ones you already pried off clinch right back down again.

Now imagine that the person with the firm grip on your arm is yourself.

Now imagine that it's not your arm on which you have a firm grasp, but your own heart.

I like to know what is planned, so a lot of times, I like to be in control. Unfortunately, this means that I often end up with a firm grasp on my own heart, instead of letting go and allowing God to cradle my heart instead (Psalm 131). Especially at this point in my life - where all the things I thought I would have by now haven't necessarily happened, and all the things I feel I should have figured out by now haven't been figured out - I am holding onto my heart more strongly than ever, trying to figure out what to do next.

This is where I have started to realize that I really need God and His grace. Matt Maher sings in Your Grace is Enough that God "wrestles with the sinner's restless heart." Well, God... bring it on. Let's do this. I'm ready. And even though I may wrestle back, I really do want You to win.

Friday, June 24, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday (#26)

Jen had a baby! So go visit Conversion Diary... maybe there will be some cute baby pictures up!
  1. Long time, no talk! I don't really have a valid excuse for my long absence, as I still have been unable to find any kind of job, so I do spend a lot of time sitting around looking for jobs (and watching TV) and trying to not spend money (and watching TV). It seems whenever my schedule is so incredibly flexible that I put things like catching up on everything happening in blog world to the side. But fear not! I have a couple of posts in the making, one talking a little bit about my retreat and one is that Scripture meme going around (I was tagged by Trista too long ago... good thing they don't have an expiration date!). I also am working on a new blog layout... I am a bit of a perfectionist so I hope to have it just the way I like it soon!
  2. Just a quick mention about my retreat since my actual post is so delayed - my silent retreat went well, although it was a lot more difficult that I imagined, but more on that later! Thanks to everyone who remembered to pray for me - I prayed for your intentions every day at Mass!
  3. The job search is chugging along. I haven't been able to find anything really temporary even yet, and full time work just hasn't finished getting through the application process. I have had a few interviews for temporary work, so hopefully that will come rolling in soon! Pray for my job search? My sanity (and my bank account) would be very grateful!
  4. Speaking of job searching, I am looking for a job in chemistry, and I've found (so far) that they best way to get my name in is through connections. So, a request. Do any of you or anyone you know work in the field of chemistry? If you do, could I send you my resume? Also feel free to check out my profile on Linked In and pass it on to anyone you know!
  5. I find scruffiness handsome. Keep that in mind, future suitors!
  6. Check out this great post that I found through Why I'm Catholic, which talks about how Christians become atheists. Simple answer - they start to think about objective truth, and in their search, they end up in the opposite direction of Truth. 
  7. I've been watching a lot of TV shows on DVD lately, because they're free from the library! I have long been a fan of the TV show Merlin from the BBC, so now I picked up another BBC show from a few years back called Robin Hood. It's really quirky, and quite cheesy, but I enjoy it (okay, I also admit that I find the actor who plays Robin very handsome). I think British humor just really resonates with my sense of humor (my British friend back home would definitely agree with this - she finds my dry sense of humor ha-larious!). Maybe I should just move to England where I can be immersed in British humor all day. I do sometimes miss living in London!
  8. Finally, I have to give a shout out to Leila, because not only does she have some great posts this week, but she also is mailing me a copy of the book Unplanned by Abby Johnson. It's been on my reading list for awhile, and I do have a lot of free time to spend reading by the pool, so I can't wait to get it. You rock, Leila!

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Tomorrow, I head off for the ultimate spiritual workout... a 5-day silent retreat. The idea of going on a silent retreat suddenly became appealing to me a few months ago in prayer, and it kept nagging at me... until I gave in! I hope that it will be an enlightening experience that will help lead me to the next steps in my life.

Please keep me in your prayers over the next 5 days, and I will remember your intentions during my retreat!

Feeling inspired?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...