It’s been just over a week since we got back from making the spiritual exercises during our long retreat and us first years are now away again doing our short experiments. I’m down in London, working in a hospice, which is something that definitely pushes my boundaries – it is very much outwith my life experience to date.
The long retreat was much more intense than I expected. Spending 30 days in silence and with God is both wonderful and deeply challenging and it has taken me quite a few days to emerge from the silence in any proper sense. I was struggling to engage in even basic conversations for the first 48 hours and even now get the occasional spike of emotion as though out of nowhere.
I wrote, just before making the retreat, about paintings I had seen in Manresa showing the four weeks of the exercises. Week one was a chaos of colour and motion, while week four was a bright white outline of the figure of the glorified Christ.
During the retreat itself I completely rejected this representation of the first week – I didn’t feel chaos but a certainty, based on some very powerful images that had emerged in prayer, drawing me onwards. But, looking back now, I can see exactly what was meant. The first week was a whirl of ideas and imagery, much of which would solidify over the course of the exercises as the focus did switch from seeing the world through my own, slightly chaotic and confused, framework to a much simpler prism, the love of God and the reality of the risen Christ.
Even now, 10 days or so from the end of the retreat, it is difficult to put into words what actually happened. Save to say that I have emerged feeling lighter – a lot of accumulated dead weight has been lifted off me. On the final day I wrote in my journal that I felt both emptier and fuller than I had ever been, freer and also more committed. These paradoxes will now become part of my new reality in the weeks and months ahead and I’ll see where this new lightness of being leads.
I can’t speak for others but my broad sense is that we received many and varied graces during the retreat. God was very generous and met us where we each were and touched us in very different ways. Uniting it all, for me at least, was a sense that I had grown to know Christ more intimately and as a result had also grown in love for Him. And what more could a person hope for.
Making the spiritual exercises is a very special experience and one that I will remember for the rest of my life. The challenge now is to respond to the graces given in the retreat, to learn to live more fully in the knowledge of God’s love, trusting God completely as we set of on our life journey each and every day. My hope and prayer is that I can both live out the reality of God’s love and share it with others, and our experiments are the ideal way to begin that process.
I’ll write a bit more about my experiment in the hospice over the next few weeks. In the meantime, please keep all us first years in your prayers as we embark on our different jobs and also the second years, who have been on their long experiments for the past 6 weeks (as you will have seen from some recent posts from Beirut and Johannesburg). All of us – first and second year – will be on our experiments until Easter and then it is back to Birmingham and the noviciate house, after what will have been good months of growing and learning.