Monday, April 22, 2013

Retreats are great for people watching, if nothing else.

The grounds of Loyola House of Retreats in Morristown, NJ have been recently improved. Very glad to have brought my camera.



In packing for the weekend, I retrieved my retreat handbook from the bookcase cabinet. The schedule from my most recent retreat was still paper-clipped inside the front cover. The date was 2005. In those days, I had three boys aged five and under. I remember not knowing how to manage my time, not being accustomed to having much to myself. I learned that I'm a very different person now than I was then. Likewise the retreat house has changed. Jesuits, while on-hand for the celebration of the sacraments during the weekend, no longer conduct the retreat lectures themselves.

Immediately after checking in and receiving my west wing room assignment, I went to the marble table outside the Fr. Stork parlor and signed up to lead outdoor Stations of the Cross Saturday after lunch. In heading to my room, I forgot that the mansion's upper floors do not connect with the west wing. I came back down the central, double staircase and walked through the Ignatian Room, past the bookstore and behind the chapel to the west wing stairs. My room was very nice.

And the dusty prie-dieu was great for holding open the door.

Seriously, I dusted the thing off before using it. It had cobwebs.

Before dinner, I visited the small gift shop / bookstore. I was looking for a Pope Francis prayer card but there were none.

At dinner time, I sought out my group in the dining room. In the three-quarters full room, I spotted a couple of familiar-faced strangers from over the years. They recognized me as well. The acquaintance who had invited me on retreat chose not to sit at the same table as I. That disappointed me.

Being left-handed, I took a seat at the left end of the table, fully aware that I would be responsible for piling up the dishes from my side of the table after every meal. I met with some resistance from the other women already seated. They weren't sure about me joining their table?

A retreat veteran, Dorothy, was reserving the seat across from me for a friend who would arrive later in the evening. The friend had recently lost her mother. I could see when she arrived that she was a wreck. Somewhat inexplicably that first night, all the used dishes came my way at the end of the meal because Dorothy did not handle her side. In general, the women at my table were lax at passing serving platters. Had it been some time since they've eaten family style? And when the friend showed up, she was in no shape to pick up the slack. At one point, I told those across the table who were handing me their dishes, "You can pass them down your own side."

They were not good about cleaning their plates either. The retreat house staff informs so gently, maybe too gently, that food is expensive and, especially when served buffet style, ought not be wasted. I was appalled on Saturday morning that a woman at our table - a woman from my own hometown! - filled up her plate from the buffet and ate none of it. The woman across from me didn't finish her dinner but went up for dessert. Without the warning from the staff, it wouldn't matter to me. But I was bothered by the diners' disregard.

After dinner, we were persuaded of the value of silence. Then we had a lecture and Night Prayer in the chapel. I brought plenty of reading along so I was happy to retire to my room. Besides, it was raining; Friday night was a terrible thunderstorm.

Saturday began with Morning Prayer in the chapel, followed immediately by breakfast. There was a lecture in the chapel and free time which allowed for one-on-one sessions with a spiritual director. During a previous retreat, I spoke with a Jesuit one-on-one but found that the allotted time was too brief to solve anything.

It was refreshing to be in an environment without any news of current events. There was no mention of politics whatsoever. Nothing about healthcare. No social justice concerns. Not even anything about the institutional Church or the new Pope. Just Jesus, my fellows, myself and the sacraments. I became aware how laden with political overtones is the Christianity in which I'm often immersed. Bumper stickers like "Believers for Obama" and support for Israel. Studying Daniel 11 last week, a participant remarked with concern that none of the ambiguously identified nations resembled the United States. "Are we no longer a force for good at this future time in world history?" she asked.

We celebrated reconciliation and my ambition came to mind. I'm not acting out my daydreams (ambition) but indulging them prevents me from acting positively. Then lunch and Stations of the Cross.

I became familiar with Stations of the Cross on retreat and also Lenten Fridays at St. Jerome's in West Long Branch. I thought that my conscience would allow me to lead Stations especially after just confessing my besetting sin and receiving the grace of divine forgiveness. I was conscious not to rush, to allow time for reflection. To project my voice so as to be audible to the group and to speak clearly. I tried to follow closely behind the cross and candle bearers but once I fell back too far and had to walk briskly to catch up. It was strange to hear one's own voice solo, outdoors, before a group.

We celebrated Saturday weekday mass before dinner. After Saturday's dinner is always a problem. It seems that the staff doesn't know how to fill the time. One year they showed a movie. Often they've allowed a recreational break of the observed silence. This year, they proposed a Q&A. Well, I sat for about ten minutes and realized it wasn't for me! Then I got a bright idea: with everyone inside, I'd take my camera outside. And I got some lovely pictures.

The evening ended with Night Prayer and Exposition. Sunday morning was a final lecture, rosary, Sunday liturgy and lunch before departure. It was nice to visit the retreat house again after all these years but I'm pretty sure that I don't ever need to return.

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