schenkby Christine Schenk, NCR

It’s summer and time for my annual retreat. Talk to any nun. Most of us would rather forego our vacations than miss this precious interlude of quality time with the One who got us into this mess to begin with.

Most years, I go to a quaint hermitage on the bucolic grounds of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine near Ohio’s Amish country.  I watch the sun rise on one side of my solitary abode and set on the other. From the front porch, you can see a huge weeping willow overhanging a placid pond, unsettled only by wide-mouthed frogs that urp and splash whenever I wander by.

urnature-retreat-1_r1y2P_11446I love this place. A priest friend told me about it when I was pondering whether to enter the Cleveland Sisters of St. Joseph. So I set aside a weekend each month to consider God and me and where it all was going. After a year, I roamed the grounds for a glorious week in the fall, searching out my final answer. When it was time to leave, I was so filled up, it left me uncharacteristically speechless. A beloved sister-spiritual director helped me sort it out: “Chris,” she said, “I think you’re in love.” Who knew? It made no sense at all and actually seemed sort of goofy at the time. But there it was, and I couldn’t deny it.

I love this sacred hermitage space not only because of its association with my nun roots, but also because subsequent years brought new chapters in my God quest. Retreat is a time to reconnect with the God-mystery at a deeper level. A frequent dynamic for me is the gentle uncovering of places in my heart that I have walled off, either because the pain was too much to deal with at the time or, well, who wants to look at pain when the World Cup is on TV?

But there you are in your hermitage. You, you and (now I’m really bored) you. And, well, yes, there’s that pesky God person. God loves us so much, God can’t help but lead us to healing and a bigger love, even though the process is sometimes painful. So my hermitage walls reverberated with cries of sorrow, grief and anguish when my mother died. They frequently witnessed my fiery anger and, worse, despair at the slow pace of church renewal and reform. Why aren’t you doing this faster, God? (Did I mention how important a good spiritual director is for times of retreat?)...

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