I was so excited about a writing retreat at Mepkin Abbey, which is only an hour away from our home. And it is truly a lovely retreat center. However, we had not received a detailed schedule (as I normally do when I register for a conference) but assumed that there will be lectures followed by quiet time to write. However, the retreat was designed with a lot of sharing, so there wasn't much time for writing if one also wanted to join the monks for the liturgy of the hours. One of the monks had addressed this, saying it's hard to do both retreat activities and LOH but I find it's good to spend extra time in prayer while on a retreat. My favorites are Vespers (evening) and Compline (night). I also had a horrible migraine the whole time and couldn't believe that it had lasted as long as it already had -- eight days total. So I was already at the end of my rope before I began the retreat. I wondered why God would make this retreat possible if it was going to be so terrible. What lessons did I need to learn?
I am still processing all of that. But three things are on the forefront. The value and need for silence, for orthodoxy, and for learning to suffer well. I always ask why God allows so much suffering and evil. One of the things I did after returning home was to spend some time with St. John Paul II's Salvifici Doloris. I think the problem of evil and suffering is the most difficult to reconcile with our understanding of an omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient God but JPII is an amazing writer who can clarify this. He writes, "every suffering is an experience of evil." This is so true. But it is our response that matters. We can either be in despair or join it to Christ's redeeming suffering, giving our own some meaning.
That brings me to the lectures on storytelling, which were very good. The focus was on our personal narrative, how it fits with the larger one, in family, society, the world, and how it relates to the Greatest Story. In a nutshell, we listened to stories on hope, exile, repentance, and home. I couldn't help but think that even within the Church one can be exiled for preserving tradition. Other ideas were on gratitude, honoring our pain, seeing with new eyes, and going forth. It reminded me how important it is to share our personal stories, of how God has worked in our lives. I think I've done that in bits and pieces, but never in a cohesive, structured manner, and this is something I will do.
Here are some pictures from the abbey grounds, where I strolled and prayed the rosary, which is nothing more than pondering the greatest story with Mary.
This was my room -- light and airy. And here I'd write late at night. But it was sooooo good to come home to my family. In just three days, a little cucumber was ready for picking. And the kitties missed me because they demanded to be petted. Best of all, it was soooo good to celebrate Corpus Christi and Father's Day at Stella Maris. Our priest tied the two celebrations with one word: Presence!