A Spiritual Marathon

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​I had expected to be able to post throughout this week, but unfortunately this is probably the busiest week of Lent for me. Until next week that is. As I mentioned to my priest last night, it’s all good busy, but this morning I was beyond exhausted. I stayed in bed an extra hour until my headache subsided, and now I’m slowly getting ready for today.

As part of my Lenten journey this year, in going to the desert figuratively, and finding my own wilderness, I have taken on many spiritual projects that are dear to me. It was fortunate that my local retreat center had so many sessions and experiences to choose from.

I have been keeping a Lenten journal since Ash Wednesday, and I have been loving it. From the feel of the pen gliding across the paper to the beautiful green Celtic designed journal itself, it has given me a feeling of purpose that I will try to continue, although not daily, throughout the spring and summer, and perhaps convert it to an Advent journal later in the year.

All of March has been full of wonderful opportunities. Let me just list them since Sunday before I talk about yesterday in more detail.

SundayMass. I had it said for my murdered friend on her birthday. She would have been thirty-three. My daughter also had a playdate at her friend’s house. Sunday is also when our family enjoys two hours of The Walking/Talking Dead.

MondayDaily Mass. I have been added attending the 9am masses to my Lent.

TuesdayWeek 3 of a four week art as theology series on Old Testament Women. I had a writing group that I had to miss though – priorities and making choices are one of the things that we all need to face. My oldest child turned 20. The Flash had a musical episode that we were going to miss to take my son out for his birthday. The Flash is a very family friendly show that we actually watch as a family. I can’t remember another show that our entire family sat together around the television for. It is very much our 1950s radio hour.

WednesdayLenten Day of Reflection and Interfaith Dinner and Talk about Pilgrimages and Spiritual Travel at the Islamic Center locally.

ThursdayIt’s bill paying day, Red Hats lunch, and I need to pack for my weekend retreat.

FridayTherapy, errands, my daughter has an afterschool program, my son has a school rec night, and I begin my weekend retreat. My son and I need to be at our respective places at the same time and we all need to eat dinner.

Saturdaymy family has a pancake breakfast at the firehouse, a birthday party, and I will be on retreat.

And then we start again on Sunday!

This is pretty much how all of March has looked, and while it’s been a little tiring, it has also been exhilarating. And meditative. And fun.

Yesterday was supposed to have been one event, but with last week’s snowstorm shutting everything down, everyone in the northeast had to readjust their schedules. I could have bowed out of the evening event that had been rescheduled or I could go.

Prioritize.

Yesterday was over twelve hours of spirituality, journaling, learning, contemplating with music, art, photography, prayer, reconciliation, and Eucharist thrown in for good measure. 

The wonderful thing about the retreat center, one of the wonderful things, is that there is always someone attending who is new to meet. Old faces, new ones, the conference room, the chapel, the dining room. It is familiar and still a new experience every time. 

The day began, after a few quick announcements, in chapel for an opening prayer service. So many elements are blended to create not only a prayerful atmosphere, but one that touches on all of the senses, a theme for yesterday’s day of reflection. There were the colors of the papers and the draping of the altar. Wood and metal elements of the iconography – a cross that I took photos of so I could draw it when I got home. A candle. I had been asked to light the candle after the opening call and response. I’m usually good about volunteering if I don’t have to talk.

The day revolved around entering and spending time in the desert and then emerging better for it.

At lunch, I got to talk about my conversion experience. I sat with a friend from church and two others, so when I was asked, I just said it. I was told that I should talk about it, like in front of people. Nope. Not ready for that. Even with these three, who were very receptive to my story, my feelings, the symbols and signs, I still feel odd discussing it. But the one thing about my story was how little pressure I received from the parish, including the pastor. I think it helped me that I was always welcomed and never expected to become Catholic. It’s a wonderful community. Just having them in my life gives me a sense of calm.

I think that’s what I get most from these retreat events, whether they’re two hours, all day, or for the entire weekend. They each have a way of drawing me in, and focusing my attention on something I need to know or know more about, whether I know it before I get there or not.

And there is the calmness built into the schedule.

I remember last year feeling overwhelmed about all of the events, and being uncomfortable and not interested in everything, but this year, there isn’t enough time in the season to soak it all in. I have at least two things each month until June, and I’m pumped for it all.

In the evening, I attended an interfaith dinner for the first time. They hold them every month with some kind of program. Dinner was Indian which included naan, one of the flatbreads that I can eat this Lent since I gave up bread. (I know naan is a bread, but I’m going by what my doctor recommended last year when she wanted me to go off bread completely. Flatbread was suggested.) They also had that amazing rice pudding for dessert. 

Last night’s program was about pilgrimages and travel and it gave me so much to meditate on that I could be busy for months. Much of my writing is about paths and journeys, what directions to take, which way to go. It is one fo the things that meld my writing with my depression, and one of my coping mechanisms that keep my recovery on track.

One of the speakers was my godmother who walked the for 500 miles last fall, and her spiritual adventure as well as information and contemplative questions on why we walk and travel and what we’re looking for. I received many questions to ask myself and journal about as Lent continues on. The second speaker was a local Muslim doctor who has extensively traveled with his wife and family and talked about and showed photos of some of the religious sites around the world that he had been to. I learned much more from him that I thought I already knew, but that I hadn’t know before or didn’t know the full stories of including the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, two places I’m going to read more about later on today.

Some of the things I will be thinking about today as I go forward from yesterday’s spiritual marathon are related to the desert and the way I choose to go:

What will I need to bring with me into the desert and what do I fear about the journey?

What speaks to me in the desert through my five senses?

How am I changed and how will I act differently as I emerge from the desert?

What are we missing along the way in our fast-paced lives?

How can I be more present?

What is the next step? Where is the path leading me?

What’s next?

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