The real value of these retreats is that the silence and simplicity of the environment strips away the usual distractions that keep me away from myself and, more importantly, God. Within minutes of arriving, a million skittering voices rise up in me that sound something like this:
- "I wonder if there are any bears or serial killers in these woods?"
- "Is it too early to dig into the food basket?"
- "I should have said 'to hell with the rules' and brought along my itunes."
- "Rats! I have to pee already and I hate using that stupid outhouse."
- "Is it too early to go to bed?"
- "I wonder how long it would take someone to find my body if I was mauled by a bear or a serial killer?"
- "Hey, I never noticed that the sound of rain falling on dead leaves sounds exactly like the sound of a fire crackling."
- "Why can't these hermitages have wireless access? What's so bad about a little internet fix now and then? And while I'm at it, would it kill them to pump in a little electricity and running water? Do they have something against indoor toilets? Rats! Now I really have to pee!"
- "Oh my goodness, I've only been here for ten minutes. I'm going to fry every neuron in my head by the time I get out of here!"
The first time I went on one of these retreats these voices were deeply disturbing to me. Now I have come to expect them. That's the reason I always plan on at least two days. It takes a minimum of six hours (more like a whole day) for these voices to burn themselves out so I can begin to hear something else.
The things I find in my mind and heart are not always so flattering, I'll tell you that much. I find impatience, fear, boredom, selfishness, doubt...you name it. I find all of the clutter and chaos that has been taking up space in my life. This is what I have to offer to God. This is the entire task of my time at Pacem. I lift up these thoughts and urges and sensations and desires to Jesus and I listen. I do this over and over and over again. And then I sleep. (This is hard work!)
The voice of God is always surprising to me. He speaks in quiet little whispers like a kitten breathing in my ear. It's no wonder I have such a hard time hearing him most of the time. It's surprising to me that such a great big God would speak with such a tender voice. But he does. This is why it has become so important to me to go away periodically to clear out an internal space. And this is why it has become so important to cultivate all the little silences in my days and nights. God lives there. He whispers to me in the quiet if I'll take the time to offer up my noise so I can hear him.
With that, I'll leave you with a few more photos from my stay. Love to you all...