To my disdain, day two of the silent retreat began way earlier than our 6:30 a.m. wake-up call. At about 3:30 in the morning I woke up feeling like I was in the dairy locker at Costco. There was a vent in our room, but no thermostat. This may have been ideal for storing milk and eggs, but it was not conducive to sleeping.
I figured my husband was also freezing, because when I tried to steal his blanket, he held on tight. I got out of bed and grabbed my long sweater to drape over him. This was not completely altruistic of me, as I grabbed my boots while I was up, and put them on my frozen feet. I retreated back to bed, contorting my body into a tiny ball.
When it was time to wake up, I was grumpy. I did not need words to communicate it. Looking in the mirror at the frown lines on my forehead that seemed to have multiplied infinitely overnight, I thought how foolish it was of me to dedicate myself to works of mercy for my 40th birthday instead of just getting Botox like everyone else. Not that one really has anything to do with the other, but I wasn’t lucid enough then to justify my thought process, so I won’t bother now either. I was tired, cold and wrinkly.
A bell rang at 7 a.m. Not a boisterous gong of a church bell, but a ringing whimper. I figured the bell was cold too. As Pavlov would tell you, the bell means it’s time to eat. We went to the cafeteria with the 100 or so other retreatants, said a prayer, and then lined up at the buffet for our food. While we could not speak to each other, it was not quiet. We ate while listening to a taped recording of Bishop Fulton Sheen blaring into a microphone.
After breakfast we had a small break before the first meditation talk began. We went back to our room and my husband located the control for our thermostat. It was in the empty dorm room next door — perfectly logical. Ugh was my first thought, and Yay my second. At least I knew I wouldn’t feel like pasteurized milk another night.
There was also a youth group sharing the camp, and it was nice to hear their laughter and joy. They had been told about us, about the need to respect our silent solitude. I can only imagine how nut-so they thought we were — a bunch of grown-ups wandering around in silence like they were in an extended time out.
I wasn’t really looking forward to meditation since I had already met my quiet-quota the night before. On our way to the chapel, we were blessed with some impeccable rays of light shining around an enormous tree and its billowy branches. I had never seen rays of light so pronounced and serene. I took it as a sign that God was with me and knew that I was whiny, grumpy and in need of encouragement. I was glad He showed up to Camp Middle-of-Nowhere, reminding me that His light and love truly are everywhere.
We began with morning prayers and then listened to one of the priests speak. These talks were not simply a Jesus loves you lecture, although certainly that is the premise. These were passionate, insightful, intense and a bit unnerving the way they called you to question — “Are you holding on to a sin, is that why you are afraid to praise God – because you fear? How are you praising God with your life? Am I doing my will, my thing – or God’s? How often do you praise God? How much time do you spend seeking him in prayer? How do you embrace your crosses?”
Oh Lord, embrace my crosses? I get grouchy just from being cold.
These were all valid questions indeed, but not ones that I had access to answers. Silently meditating these points seemed to leave me agitated and confused. I wanted to go back to the part where God loves me always, wants unity with me for eternity and loves me infinitely more than I do my own children (any parent will agree that is a pretty powerful statement, and such a good indicator of His passionate love.)
Perhaps that was me behaving like a selfish child who only wants to take all the kind and generous gifts her Father is willing to give, without regard to how I reciprocate my devotion to Him. After spending time in silent meditation pondering these questions, my lack of credible answers, and God’s incredulous love for each of us, we were told we would have a break until 10 a.m.
Finally, I had a break from my head that was anything but silent. I thought lustfully of going back to our now heated room, and hibernating. When I signaled to my husband to tell me the time, he showed me his watch. There was only 18 precious minutes of respite, not long enough to settle in for a long winter’s nap.
I was sad. I had prayed, meditated, read the Bible and was hearing no profound messages — just voices in my head, each with their own agenda and idea. I had become Sybil, with a multitude of new personas, none of which I seemed to like.
We spent our break by the lake in the sunniest spot I could find. I greedily soaked up the rays of the sun as I looked out at the lake. I thought about an analogy the priest used to describe God’s passionate love for us. He likened it to a first love, how you are always thinking about that person, always wanting to please that person, always wanting to be with that person. That is what God wants from us.
I thought of the many youthful infatuations I had growing up, and how they in no way compare to the depths of married love I have with my husband. To think that my spousal love pales in comparison to God’s love for me, and yet it is with that devotion that I am called to love God, made me feel like I have only made tiny steps on what will inevitably be a long journey.
But, I am here are the words I kept repeating over and over to all those nagging voices in my head. I am here. I am open. I am trying to know God better. I am here.
And finally, I was warm.