Over the past four decades I’ve learned the same foundational truth about discernment from three very different people. One is my Uncle Otis, a semifamous faith-healing evangelist who was Charismatic long before it was cool. The other two are Dallas Willard and Ignatius of Loyola.Read More
I love retreats, real retreats! I love their expansiveness and freedom. We need to be cautious in our use of the word, which is increasingly applied to almost any activity that takes us away from our usual surroundings. Marathon off-site business meetings, parish-sponsored family outings, and trips to the beach or ski slopes for the youth group are often billed as retreats. Necessary, productive, or re-creative as such events might be, they are not retreats.Read More
The last leg of the journey seems to last forever. We drive six miles down a narrow, winding road, sometimes barely wide enough for one car to pass. The banks of snow on either side are so high that we can’t see over them, as if we were driving through a white tunnel. We finally arrive at our destination, unpack our gear, and load it onto the back of a snowcat before beginning our trek to the lodge. After walking perhaps a hundred yards, we round a bend and come upon a large meadow. Suddenly the world opens up before us. At the far end sits a cozy lodge with smoke curling from its three chimneys. Tall peaks rise some five thousand feet above us, and a pristine river, the Napeequa, rushes past, a nacreous ribbon meandering through a field of pure white. The snow, which covers everything in sight, washes the world in white and muffles all sound, creating the silence of an empty cathedral. The air is so clear and crisp it makes the world seem luminous.Read More
It was a Friday in the spring—still cold weather in the Borough of Queens in New York City— when I drove up the long, winding drive to the Jesuit Retreat House on Long Island known as Inisfada.
At the time the property was large and the situation of the retreat house commanding. It was a late Victorian mansion with many stories. The house was set high on a rise of land. Steep stone steps led up to an elaborate front entrance. Such were many Catholic retreat houses I found in my exploration of the spiritual life. This one, like others, had been given to the Society of Jesus (no doubt by some Catholic family of the late Gilded Age) in the expectation that the good fathers would use it in their teaching, their spiritual formation of young men, and their renowned retreat work with men and women “living in the world.”Read More
A question from an eleven year-old girl triggered the mini-existential crisis that supplied the energy to write this essay. A long forgotten memory retrieved during a day-and-a half retreat helped focus the direction of this essay.
And a recently devoured book, one that requires stronger teeth than mine to chew properly, suggested the content of this essay. The girl is Josie, my oldest granddaughter. During a late night conversation with this budding epistemologist, with little context she surprised me with this question: “Pop-Pop, if Buddhism and Hinduism are false religions, how do we know that Christianity isn’t just one more false religion?”Read More
One of the most special gifts of being on retreat is that it gives us space to listen deeply. In the silence and the solitude we are able to slow down, quiet ourselves, and hear those things we so often don’t hear. While the primary way to listen on retreat is usually through a meditation on the Scriptures, I want to complement this traditional emphasis with another kind of listening. Retreat, I would like to suggest, is also a time to “listen to the groans.”1Read More
Leading spiritual retreats is a great joy. Because most of my experience over the years has been with people on a first spiritual retreat, I am often filled with gratitude as I witness men and women discovering newfound freedom, hope, wellbeing, and intimacy with God. Spiritual retreat is a time for drawing aside from the distractions of daily life in order to become more attentive to the movement of God within and around us. Increasingly, many people seek such places of respite and renewal. But the path to the doorway of retreat is often fraught with obstacles.Read More
I had recited Psalm 23 many times. I believed it was true for me. Then one glorious year, I lived it. I had been restless at work for some time. I knew something wasn’t quite right, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I requested different work arrangements to delay the inevitable, but after each request I knew the problem would still be there. As I prayed, conviction grew within me that I needed to leave my job and write. For years I had been working on a book about the spiritual significance of gender. Now a tension was building: I wanted to work on the book full time. It didn’t seem feasible. But the Lord waited.Read More
Warnabul, Australia, spring 1996. My first weeklong silent retreat has arrived. I view the lush gardens and stone cloisters and exhale a gut-deep sigh of relief. No work. No family. No demands. A week of bliss. I have been intending to rest my soul for a very long year. “You are what I need, Lord. Only you . . . Only now that I’m here, I wonder what I will do with a week of unscheduled time.”Read More
The walls of winter closed in on me, squeezing the breath from my soul and the light from my heart. Any love that might have filtered down at Christmas had long since disappeared into the tundra. I scraped—and scrapped—my way through the icy grip of a frozen holiday season and trudged into January, but the internal bleakness turned dark as night. From the deep caverns one thought surfaced: Run away. And then, run to God for personal retreat.
With perfect timing, my daughter left a buoyant message: “Mom, I’ll be in New York for two weeks. I hope you’ll use my keys and plan a getaway at my apartment.”
My soul responded with a heaving sigh of relief.
I avoided eye contact with the piles of work in my office, asked my family for forgiveness for my contrariness, and my husband for a ride to the commuter train. I loaded my Bible and journal and a favorite contemplative book into a wheeled carry-on. I stowed a few rations for the three days away. I left behind my laptop, my briefcase, and my to-dos; grabbed my soul in hand; gripped the keys so tightly they left an imprint on my palm, and hauled aboard the train.Read More