God is in the solitude and He speaks in silence and in silence He must be heard. St. Teresa used to say that prayer is being with a friend, and in this particular case, a Friend who loves us so as to desire to lead us into the desert as the prophet Hosea says: "I will allure her into the desert and speak to her heart." In a nutshell that was my experience. But along with the holy, I also experienced the silly. Without ruining the spiritual nature of the retreat, I will share with you some laughable moments which I should be ashamed to recount but I will nonetheless!
What can I tell you about my seven days in the desert? All the time it made me think and reflect of the early hermits on Mount Carmel in Palestine over 800 years ago. For this was exactly the type of life they led. The early Carmelites were eremitical; they spent most of their time in prayer and meditation in their caves and met only for the Sacrifice of the Mass. My experience gave me a renewed love of our Holy Order of Carmel.
Since God did not call me to a life of absolute withdrawal from the world and silence but to a life of ministry to our beloved elderly, I am at least grateful that He had shown me a "wadi" where I could refresh myself like our Holy Father St. Elijah in Mount Horeb. (1 Kings 19:1-7). Before I proceed with the delights of silence and solitude, let me share with you the silly reactions I had which you might find amusing. On my first three days in my hermitage, my imagination was on full gear. The hermitage, situated in the middle of the woods, made me feel like a frontier woman. I looked out the forest trees and I imagined savage Mohawks peeking out of the bushes! I also imagined having a starving bear at my doorstep at night while I was asleep. Or find the sorts of creatures you'd find in the forest like snakes, salamanders, spiders, etc possibly finding entrance into my little cottage in the dark of night. Or worse yet, could it happen that an escaped prisoner might just have been hiding in this particular Chester forest and would notice my light in the dark of night? Aside from earnest prayers rising up to heaven, I also took refuge in the Tylenol-PM tablets to lull me to sleep so I could be oblivious to what was happening around me! When I read the passage in the Gospel of St. Mark about Jesus in the desert with the wild beasts, I thought of the creatures of my imagination as my wild beasts! But I'm happy to report that after the third night I slept like a babe with no worry about anything. I was then able to open myself more to the still small voice within and around me.
The Scriptures were my constant companion. Retreatants were not allowed to bring any other book even spiritual ones. I read mostly the commentaries on the Book of Kings from Jerusalem Bible and it became my spiritual meat. The readings reminded me that of the many Kings Israel had, only three really found favor in God's eyes: David, Hezekiah and Josiah. It reminded me that even if there are only two people who love God and obey His commandments, these two can make a difference. It's a lesson to our day. The Parallel Gospels were also another source of spiritual insights. The time alone with my Spouse in the quiet was precious as He reminded me once again the meaning of my consecration to Him. The liturgy as celebrated by the hermits was another pearl. The slow rhythm of reciting the Office, the 20 minutes contemplative prayer after Holy Communion (to replace the homily) and the daily Hourly Eucharistic Adoration, were all means of finding God again. It's funny I just said that. Solitude retreat is really not about us finding God, but God finding us! In the busy schedule of our lives we somehow "get lost." St. John of the Cross said: "If a soul is looking for God, the more God is looking for the soul." There is so much more to shar but this will suffice for now. The secrets of the King is better enjoyed in the silence of one's heart.
Enjoy some of the photos!
(article also posted on "Mount Carmel" blog)