June 18, 2015

On Vacation With The Lord

Going on a silent retreat is like taking a “vacation with the Lord.” All the distractions and responsibilities of life are removed during this time so that you can clearly listen to the still small voice of God who speaks to the heart. Recently, I went on a 30-day silent retreat following Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. The experience was the best “vacation” I ever had. This may sound strange when you think of all the exotic places one can travel to and the many activities available to those planning a holiday.

Alas, no piƱa coladas or strawberry daiquiris were served on warm tropical beaches during this “vacation,” nor were tourist sights visited and photographed. Rather streams of living water poured forth from within quenching all thirst of the heart that seeks its Creator and purpose in life. The month of intense prayer allowed me to glimpse the eternal destination of our souls. The countless hours of meditation on the life of Christ and his plan of salvation allowed me to know more personally this child born in the manger of humble beginnings that would give his life on the cross some 33 years later.

The Ignatian practice of praying with the imagination and entering the scene of scripture events allowed me to travel back in time some 2,000 years ago and experience the world that Jesus knew as he walked among us. The spiritual exercises have the retreatant repeatedly pray with the events and teachings of Jesus for five 1-hour prayer periods each day. Throughout the month it was as if I was listening to Christ’s voice first-hand, or watching him perform the signs and miracles among the crowds as I joined in their awe and bewilderment as he: multiplied the loaves, raised Lazarus from the dead, and calmed the storm with his words.

During these 30 days I spent most of the time alone in a small room with a desk, a bed, and a sitting chair. The nearby chapel and countless acres of peaceful grounds for walking and reflection provided the perfect environment for the encounter with God. While such solitude may seem extreme to some, it provides quality time away from the busy and noisy world which often prevent us from hearing and seeing God’s presence in our daily life. The silence allows you to enter into deep: prayer, reflection, meditation and conversation with the Divine.

The term “Spiritual Exercises” rightly gets its name. I cannot believe how much material we covered in that month. I came out from the retreat totally exhausted from this marathon-like experience. It was not always easy to pray 5 hours a day for 30 days straight. The schedule made for full days when you add daily Mass, journaling time after each prayer period and your time out walking in nature. You have a little human contact each morning as you meet with a Spiritual Director for one hour. He listens to how your last 24 hours of prayer went, and guides your next 24 hours of scriptural meditations depending on your progress.

While the 30-day silent retreat is not for everyone, and requires a large commitment of time, I encourage you to think of planning your own “vacation with the Lord” one week this year, or even just for the weekend. It may end up being your favourite holiday. Besides, you will love the company.

Answering the Call