On Thursday afternoon I got to spend 4 hours in silence looking for, listening for God; letting my soul be at rest. It was part of a 1/2 day retreat called Sabbath Rest at an Ignatian retreat center in Sandy Springs. I was surrounded by nature- beautiful big trees, a soothing pond covered with lily pads, and a crisp fall breeze.
Doesn’t it sound wonderful?
It wasn’t. Well, at least not at first. After looking forward to it for days, counting on the peace and life-giving stillness I so needed to find, the whole thing was kind of a letdown until the very end.
I went to the chapel first, tried a reflective prayer. I repeated it several times and then spent 30 minutes in silence listening for the still small voice of God.
I heard nothing. Felt nothing. I gave it another 30 minutes, then I left. Deeply burdened by the fact that I’m a minister who couldn’t even find God in an Ignatian chapel, I went to sit by the pond and softy sang the Shema to myself, over and over.
A butterfly came near, and stayed close for a very long time. I think it was singing with me, too.
After a soothing time by the pond, I went inside to sit by the fireplace and do some lectio divina. I spent time in Isaiah 41 and 42, and the Psalms. At some point, I fell asleep for a good 40 minutes- the distant promises of God blanketing my rest. That part was wonderful.
Yesterday morning, I relayed the story to my counselor, saying that it feels weird and wrong to be a minister who doesn’t feel God with her.
Last night, one of our church members called me from her bed at the hospice, wanting to hear a familiar voice and be prayed over.
I texted my friend how touched I was by the moment, and she responded with “God really loves you, to let you be God’s voice in those moments.”
When she called again later that night, she said she wished she had a hand to hold. Being only 15 minutes away, I put on my shoes, packed up my Bible and headed over.
We talked, read from the Psalms (excerpts from 2,3,4 and 6), and Psalm 23. Then we prayed together, ending with the Lord’s Prayer, which she loves.
I went home and gratefully crawled back into my bed- grateful for prophetic words from my friend, and thinking about my ordination certificate in my office; reassured by a midnight pastoral encounter that my call, by God, is not revoked or lessened by this apparent journey through the footsteps of the Psalmist I feel like I’ve been on for weeks.
It is, in fact, strengthened by the hope I still cling to, the prayers I still lift, the peace I’m continually seeking and always finding at just the right time. It is strengthened by the honor that is mine of holding the hands of saints knocking on heaven’s door.
For the blessings of sacred encounters in the middle of the night, for butterflies who linger, for reminders of God’s presence with and love for, me; for the promise of peace that fills the emptiness just enough, I give thanks to God.