July 25, 2009

Retreat Notes: Acts of Contrition

The long retreat morning, Office, Mass, and breakfast all being done before 8 a.m. Now its down to the chapel to pray. As soon as I start, I'm fighting with sleepiness. The wisps of dreams float into my consciousness--those eccentric and yet logical mash-ups of the people and places of the last few days. So, the answer--in holy obedience--get up, go back to my room and go to sleep. About an hour later I am awakened by the bell announcing the optional retreatant's conference. I have no intention of going.

Back in the chapel I start in on prayer again. I do everything right. Sit quietly. Let go of thoughts. Disidentify with feelings. Purify my intention. God alone the desire of my heart, God alone the end of my will, God alone the delight of my mind. After the 20 minutes I have trained myself to sit and "do" this, I get up and walk the retreat house cloister, quietly, eyes cast down, refusing all reflections and the resumption of the interior monologue. Returning the chapel, I continue where I left off, as if such an expression makes any sense with this.

And what of it? Do I get a feeling? No. An awareness of God? Not really. An experience of God? No. I can't say that it's an experience of any-thing. But it's not quite no-thing either. It does not satisfy, does not make me feel better. This is my "dryness," this is the "aridity" as the spiritual writers call it, of my so-called prayer life.

Writing about St. John of the Cross, Thomas Merton called contemplative prayer an "uninteresting wilderness," and does that ever speak to me!

Indeed, John speaks to me a lot at times like this. For years God has been trying to invite me into the "night of sense," and for years I have been resisting the invitation. The sensual satisfactions of prayer and spiritual practice from my first fervor--now lost by the kindness of God--I have replaced by running off to other intellectual delights and physical comforts, as well as pointless distractions and anodynes.

Thus, I have not been willing--interiorly, that is--to enter the night of sense. So though I am clever enough to seem spiritual, I remain shallow.

The answer: the Cross.

7 comments:

J.A. Seeker said...

"Sit quietly. Let go of thoughts. Disidentify with feelings. Purify my intention. God alone the desire of my heart, God alone the end of my will, God alone the delight of my mind. After the 20 minutes I have trained myself to sit and "do" this, I get up and walk the retreat house cloister, quietly, eyes cast down, refusing all reflections and the resumption of the interior monologue. Returning the chapel, I continue where I left off, as if such an expression makes any sense with this."

This seems very much like my own experience during sitting meditation (zazen)and walking meditation (kinhin), yet I find that when I pursue this "practice" with all my heart I receive an unexpected gift which the best way I could describe it is as wisdom or grace that comes from God to make my life richer, warmer, fuller. Not to say that the challenges of life aren't there but that things just seem more whole, more holy when I regularly continue the "practice".

Thank you for sharing your experiences.

Dymphna said...

"The sensual satisfactions of prayer and spiritual practice from my first fervor--now lost by the kindness of God--I have replaced by running off to other intellectual delights and physical comforts, as well as pointless distractions and anodynes."

This is what speaks to me. It is so tempting and so easy to replace spiritual consolations with outward, worldly distractions. I guess I have a LONG way to go.

Seraphic Spouse said...

Hang in there!

David Saunders said...

This little essay just exactly explains what happens to me more often than not. The last retreat I went on was at an Ignatian Retreat House. The conferences left me feeling rather disinterested, although Mass (despite some commonplace abuses) and reception of the sacrament of reconciliation did give me a bit of a lift. I did more walking about the grounds in a self-imposed stupor, trying with all my might to "find God" in the whispering of the trees, than in structured contemplation as required by the exercises of the conference. When the boredom became too great, I read whatever I could lay my hands on, be it fiction or nonfiction.

Since I've taken up rooms in my parent's house (due to unemployment) I've made every effort to regain the sense of prayerful connectedness I'd found with the aid of my former spiritual director/confessor whom I dearly miss.

If I may presume to learn something from this dryness, it is that once again it is not through my own efforts (intellectual or disciplinary) that I'll find God. Or, maybe I'm missing the point and God is truly there in the arid desert I'm trodding through right now.

Anonymous said...

Father Charles, I like many on the site prayed for you on your retreat this week, and I hope you continue to reap its spiritual blessings. Like so many others, I find it difficult to make room for God in the crush of daily life, even though I know He is always present to make some of the crush easier to bear. Our daily lives can become so disconnected from prayer, even the prayer of simply asking God to be present in our life and guide our actions. The challenge for me is allowing God to work in my life, and being faithfully confident that He will do so.

Qualis Rex said...

I have always found it much easier to find God in the night sky than in the daylight.

4narnia said...

beautiful and very prayerful photo, Fr. C! thanks for sharing your retreat experience and photos. i've been enjoying reading all about your retreat. PEACE! ~tara t~