God is good. All is good. Morning after breakfast, before mass, perched on a second floor porch overlooking the pine forest; a family, a boy and young girl visit below in the Lourdes grotto. I have been considering the blessing God gave to me within this retreat. The retreatant nuns conduct a silent retreat. There is one lay woman, French in spirit, who speaks, yet the rest are silent. A maturity I needed to experience is being experienced, a cultivated spiritual presence within the retreatants encountered, a loss of self-consciousness amongst those lacking self-consciousness through the culmination of proper formation. Obedience to the church has replaced the desperate need for unique individuality.
I am editing this morning’s post, now seated on a bench overlooking the Sister of Mercy cemetery, a crucifixion cross from the order standing upon a slight hill, resting atop a pedestal, centers the hundreds of grave markers. The sisters bless me in spirit with silence, and now their decease present themselves. I was thinking that a good way to understand these women is to comprehend the week of silence and spiritual direction must be the apex of their social life. I am positive many of them have looked forward to this summer retreat throughout the year. Time set aside, a dedication to cultivating their faith in silence is something they have hungrily anticipated for months. Well over fifty of the sisters celebrate daily mass. The priest today smiled during the parting rites, nodding his head as he expressed gratitude for the affirmative and assertive responses and song throughout the mass. The sisters singing is worth the price of admission. A special note regarding the Eucharistic celebration. After transubstantiation, amidst the priest expressing gratitude for the saints, the priest pauses, allowing the numerous sisters to join in proclaiming the name of their founder Venerable Mother Catherine McAuley.
These women, religious devotees, consecrating their life to God, have now reached an advanced state. I recall a book on St Thomas Aquinas commenting the saint felt scripture itself is no longer necessary after refined spiritual advancement is acquired. When the vessel is cleansed and empty, God easily fills. There is no need for wise words from saints, nor spiritual writers, poets, or even scripture. Involved is no bitterness, no devaluing of respected sources of wisdom. Silence and stillness is enough. The silence at Our Lady of the Pines is comfortable, no sense of arrogance, nor religious pretentiousness exists within the silence of the religious women, a quiet understatement of peace. Within the emptiness, a muted disposition of strong opinion and righteousness does not exist. Again, defining by what something is not. The sisters are woman treasuring the opportunity to spend a week away from conversation and responsibilities, a week away from themselves, able to focus upon God. Voices eliminated, space is created.
I was thinking about my room, actually more correctly my suite. I have the nicest room of all the retreatants. All these women I praise have normal rooms. I was given something special. I know it is because I signed up so late, the facility making room for me, yet I saw within it a deeper message. I recalled a mother of fourteen children a good mother with amazingly a happy, well-behaved horde. Someone asked her, ‘how do you know which one to give your love and attention to?’ She answered, ‘Every moment, I am aware, discerning which of my children needs my love the most. At that moment, that one receives my attention’. The one who needs attention obtains attention. I perceive my extravagant room is a message from God: ‘My dear child, out of everyone here right now, you need the most attention’. I met with a spiritual director, another elderly sister, a woman playing the spiritual game for decades. She told me God loved me in a way that presented the message in a vibrant and fresh way. Just as I am, exactly for who I am, within all my faults, failures, struggles, current imperfections, God loves me, offering mercy as a grace. He sent His only son down from bliss in order to die for me. I know it is a message we hear all the time, yet at that moment my room made sense to me. This retreat made sense to me.
A stripping away is in process, impediments being shattered. Two other of the director’s messages resonate strongly, the two coinciding. She stressed patience, patience with all things including myself. It is a message St Francis de Sales revealed recently. The other message was an affirmation, stressing the importance of a meditative prayer life—once again the removing. I will quote her words from a book-marker she gave me at the end of this post. They are words from my poems. I interpret God encouraging my prayer life, stamping approval upon my ways. My Litany of prayers is dissolving as stillness usurps. My spiritual life, based upon faith, hope, and charity is strong. Perseverance through patience is the key at this time. Inspiringly, I take example from these sisters. Their complete lack of attention for me is a message of intense love. A smile here, casual eye contact illuminating gentleness, an enlightened peace of mind exposed, it all speaks louder than the volume of opinions and wise things being said to me in my daily life. These nuns have lived their faith for years, conducting sacrificial service to Our Lord. The accumulation of years, day by day, conducting behavior conducive to uniting with Christ, gifts of the Holy Spirit rewarding in kind, being with them means something. They know Mary and the saints, having read extensively. They have stories. Yet silence means everything to them during the highlight of their personal year. Their vacation is spent in silence. Lacking fanaticism, without extreme, they honor their commitment. It is hard. The tendency when sharing a table with one or two is to entice them into a few friendly words. However, I am determined to honor their commitment. No words simply for my sweet consolation. I properly receive their grace of silence.
I took part in a Taize choral practice yesterday. We will sing Friday during mass. I was asked to participate by an engaging lay woman my age. Attired within a French spirit, intimately familiar with the Taize community, possessing a remarkably gifted voice, her and the accompanying sisters put me to shame. I thoroughly enjoyed the singing session. Afterwards, I apologized, informing her that I warned her beforehand I was no singer. These women talk about proper key, being off-key, octaves–honestly and truly, I know nothing about such things. I love music and singing, yet intricacies elude me. The lay woman, Ann, and I speak, although we must control ourselves for we explode into an abundance of words. She is from Cleveland also, sharing many interest. I told her what a Jack-talk amongst my basketball buddies means. Jack is a seventy-five year old man, struggling to get around the court for the most part, yet in his younger days he was an outstanding player for the community of Olmsted Falls. There was one gentleman who showed up three times in a row to play with us. His skills were limited and his knowledge of the game was atrocious. Not only was he unskilled, yet his determination to control the ball hindered everyone on his team. He did not know how to fit in. Jack had a talk with the man after the third time he showed up, informing him he lacked the skills to play with us—that he should find a different gym and different people to play with. It kind of startled everyone. So afterwards we would joke about Jack having a talk with you after the games. If you have a bad day you better watch out because Jack just might pull you aside and release you. We call it a Jack-talk. I asked Amy, after the singing practice, if she was going to have a Jack-talk with me, explaining what a Jack-talk is. Informing her that if she felt the need not to have me come back anymore I would understand. She raised her voice a little, demanding that I was fully aware this is not basketball. We were not competing against one another. She made it clear that I must come back Thursday for the next practice session before the performance Friday. Plus today there will be a listening practice during lunch. She will play music recorded at Taize, believing that myself and the sisters will greatly benefit from hearing practiced and proper performances. As I type this a sister sitting close, just the two of us on the balcony, coughed, interrupting her reading. I forgot she was there. I have a feeling when all is said and done the mature silent company I have been blessed with will remain in spirit until the exclamation point of my formation, that being death, appears.
I will end with a poetry. The first poem comes from a book my spiritual director for the week supplied. The gentleman writing the poem wrote many of the poems on retreat at Our Lady of the Pines. He is a northwest Ohio farmer, raised in a farming family, father to his own family now. He proclaims a love and inspiration deriving from his life as a farmer, observing nature through time, and the raising of children. With enamored attention, through charity, I state his photo presents a simple, while penetrating and profound, happy country bumpkin, a man who will die a content and wise death. I contrast the poet with another poet, a modernist—a man of titles, elaborate style, recognition, and distinction, a poet recently presented to me, the poet being a Clevelander: Hart Crane. A highly educated pursuer of the faith dropped the name Hart Crane upon me. I know who I am and who I am not. I researched Hart Crane discovering a man of overwhelming complexity, tragedy, and ultimate failure—an individual who lost severely in a disturbing game of life. An image erupts of a troubling Robin Williams movie, another suicide victim, ‘Seize the Day’.
In a complex world of choices, multiplicity reigns, the advancement of good intentions fueled by high intellect into drastic self-justifying dependency, broken identities, vices latching and seizing, impossible to quit, the vastness of incredulity existing within attempts at grandeur, the remarkable nature of being human, suffering original sin, expecting too much from creative efforts, craving, needing everything, fear abounding, fear controlling, fear announcing throw thyself into the sea, suicide, a dreadful demise, a life of despondency, never revealing love, nor lasting within one’s duration, formation incomplete, an utter disaster.
Simplicity is the more difficult and courageous path. The simple, the little way, is nearly impossible. The complex is easy, a trap enticing, and once in motion humanly impossible to stop. God’s grace always abounds. God’s grace is the only way to halt an avalanche.
it is only an illusion.
Of what might be
Or might not be.
So often it is not the brave
Or the courageous one’s
Who conquer it.
But, it is the gentle ones
With open minds and open hearts and open eyes
That can go beyond
What appears to be.
Perceive the seductive nature of Hart Crane’s poetry, the sensuality of it attempting to draw one in, a Pandora ’s Box in the waiting, the promise of eternal literary satiation through the existence of a worldly misunderstood genius, a futile demise. The despondent desperate demand for illusiveness, pretend obscurity, portend misery, within a complex advanced expression of human creativity. Modern poet of esteem, endeavoring to be all embracing, proposing progression into a world of selectivity and intellectuality—a world set apart, choices amongst choices, a smorgasbord of indulgence and lack of self-discipline, no longer existing within the simple and mundane, something wickedly individual, brilliant, articulate beyond employment, the refutation of a factory lording father, the blossoming offspring of a mentally ill incestuous mother. It tantalizes the senses, whispering temptation, working upon pride—uniqueness and standing upon the shoulders of artistic giants, throughout the ages endearing, legacy and reputation falling upon scholarly tables. The allure of Crane’s poetic words cannot be denied. Many things I desire are not good for me.
Carmen de Boheme
Sinuously winding through the room
On smokey tongues of sweetened cigarettes, —
Plaintive yet proud the cello tones resume
The andante of smooth hopes and lost regrets.
Bright peacocks drink from flame-pots by the wall,
Just as absinthe-sipping women shiver through
With shimmering blue from the bowl in Circe’s hall.
Their brown eyes blacken, and the blue drop hue.
The andante quivers with crescendo’s start,
And dies on fire’s birth in each man’s heart.
The tapestry betrays a finger through
The slit, soft-pulling; — — — and music follows cue.
There is a sweep, — a shattering, — a choir
Disquieting of barbarous fantasy.
The pulse is in the ears, the heart is higher,
And stretches up through mortal eyes to see.
Carmen! Akimbo arms and smouldering eyes; —
Carmen! Bestirring hope and lipping eyes; —
Carmen whirls, and music swirls and dips.
“Carmen!,” comes awed from wine-hot lips.
Finale leaves in silence to replume
Bent wings, and Carmen with her flaunts through the gloom
Of whispering tapestry, brown with old fringe: —
The winers leave too, and the small lamps twinge.
Morning: and through the foggy city gate
A gypsy wagon wiggles, striving straight.
And some dream still of Carmen’s mystic face, —
Yellow, pallid, like ancient lace.
–Ending with the words of a spiritual director.
Let Your God Love You
Before your God.
Let your God
Look upon you.
That is all
He loves you with
An enormous love.
He only wants to
Look upon you
With His love,
Let your God