Wednesday, May 20, 2009
In 1995 I traveled to India with an organization called Global Projects. It was all about introducing college students to missions work. We were hosted in part by the UESI (Union of Evangelical Students of India) and even got to visit one of their headquarters. They honored us by inviting us into their building and presenting each of us (we were a big team) with an ice-cold soda. Buying that many sodas was a generous gift and we were honored. I remember sitting in a not-so-big room in the heat of the day, probably holding the cold soda to my sweaty forehead and looking around not only at our team of still somewhat culture-shocked Americans but also at the Indian UESI folks and noting how happy they all looked to have us there, and how drained we all looked from the heat and the unfamiliarity. Suddenly, one of the leaders boldly welcomed us and simultaneously switched on the overhead fans. Thousands of jasmine blossoms rained down on us filling the room with coolness and lovely fragrance. They had taken the time to place all those blossoms on the tops of the fan blades and prepared their surprise so carefully. I wept. I was esteemed and humbled at the same time. That is among one of my favorite life memories.
This past weekend I traveled, somewhat nervously, to my first Catholic retreat. I've been to seven million Protestant retreats, camps, and conferences - but nothing of the sort since my conversion. Thankfully, my friend Veronica (who asked that I change her name in my blog - perhaps she is under the mistaken impression that I have a wide following) agreed to come along. She is a Notre Dame grad and a "cradle Catholic", but she and I were in essentially the same boat - as she was new to a "Catholic retreat atmosphere" as well. The very second we were seated on the bus to leave, she remarked, "I feel like we're in another world." She had a point. Suddenly, we had moved from the familiar and crazy din of stay-at-home-mom-ness to a chartered bus full of devout Catholic women bound for a retreat center run by Carmelite Sisters in Southern California.
It was a glorious weekend of silence, sound teaching, prayer, and listening. More than anything, I relished the time to pray, free from distractions, other obligations, even normal daily responsibilities. I could go on and on, and maybe I will in the future as other specific topics come to mind, but for now I want to describe my Saturday night in the chapel.
We were at the Sacred Heart Retreat Center. Here is the website if you'd like a little glimpse of where I was and how wonderful it is.
Saturday, late in the evening, we had an opportunity to spend time with Jesus in adoration in the chapel. I spent quite a bit of time talking to the Lord, and quite a bit of time trying to listen. The chapel is pretty, and the Sisters did a nice job decorating it for adoration. I made special note in my mind of all the details so I could later share them with my children (especially Cayna, who LOVES to hear about such things). I was drawn to the altar cloth, which was simply white, but trimmed with silver, and with every tiny movement in the air, it sparkled. I memorized the colors of the flowers, the candles, even the carpet. I counted the stained glass windows, and marveled at their colors. And then... then I had to try to listen again, of course, as I had gotten swept away in the decorating! The stained glass windows were open and the cool air from outside would drift in every so often. Outside were jasmine flowers, oodles of them. And it was a wonder to catch their scent the same way I had in India, sitting motionless and surrounded by God's goodness and love in a faraway place that I'll remember forever.