Day 2 of my retreat. I woke up this morning with the driven urgency you might expect from someone who works like me. Even on retreat, I feel compelled to spend my time richly, completely, and well. Go figure, huh?
I raced down to breakfast concerned that I might be late, causing me to miss one precious minute of a week I look forward to for months. Feeling the excitement one might feel at the thought of meeting an illicit lover, I felt my heart beating wildly with a pleasure I could not name. The day was filled with possibilities.
I forced myself to slow down long enough to enjoy a rather non-descript breakfast of cereal and a hard-boiled egg, its ordinariness made nearly extraordinary by the side order of the panoramic view of the Hudson River framed between the dining room’s walls.
While eating breakfast, I was struck by how particularly fresh seemed the day. It was a frosty morning. Fog was rolling off the river, and the sunlight was making it glow. The sky was that particularly lovely shade of blue only seen on those rare, perfectly cloudless days. And the foliage was still glorious, even though we had just turned the corner of fall.
And as I ate my breakfast, I considered how to spend the next 15 hours – with absolutely nothing to do but enjoy the unfolding of time.
The photographer in me was being called by the glory of the day, knowing that both the slant of the sun and the color of the leaves were going to be fleeting. I finished my breakfast, put on my coat, picked up my camera, and went outside, becoming immersed in the beauty I couldn’t quite capture on film. And I flitted from one inspiring vignette to another, stopping only when my battery told me I was done.
Now what? 10:30 AM. 11 ½ hours to go. Funny how even on retreat I am so mindful of the clock and the running away of time, feeling as though there was someplace I needed to be. Obviously, it would take more than a day and a half to ease my way into retreat.
Making my way back inside, I returned to my simple room and contemplated my choices. With an endless array of possibilities to choose from, the one that was calling to me most loudly was spending time alone with my God. So I settled into the meditation room, large enough to hold only one, closed my eyes, and just sat in the way only a meditator could understand. The warmth of the sunlight coming through the window, the glow of the altar thoughtfully provided, the comfort of my pillows, held me as I just let myself just go.
I was filled with images of peacefulness, in contrast to the whirlwind that is my usual way. I was filled with images of spaciousness, and a patient admonishment to see my day as being such. I saw that I had permission to do that which pleased me; that there was nothing I needed to accomplish to prove my retreat time had been well spent. And in that deep knowing, I felt myself coming home.
I came on retreat with lofty plans about the wise ways I wanted to use my time. I wanted to work on a neglected manuscript. I wanted to contemplate several opportunities currently on my plate. I wanted to deepen my spiritual understandings. And I wanted to more fully know my God. For if I am going to take a week off from my life, I wanted to make sure it was time well spent. I chuckle to notice that even on retreat I’m compulsively driven.
But while in meditation the thought came to me that I had permission to do this retreat week differently. That I didn’t have to accomplish anything in order to prove my time had been well spent. That life was not about the accomplishments, but that accomplishments came as a result of a life lived completely, joyously, and well. My heart heard that. I wanted to believe that. But I wasn’t sure if I could.
Ever the adventurous pioneer, I was willing to give it a try. So away went my notebooks. Away went my journals. Away went my plans to crank out spiritual work I could point to with pride. And instead I looked into my heart to see what it was that I most wanted to do.
What did I do? I spent a decadent afternoon making love to my computer, creating photographic art. The hours flew by, with nothing more to show for my time than beauty that had not existed before. But as I realized time was creeping relentlessly closer to dinner and that I had done nothing all day but play, I found myself become more and more agitated, believing I had wasted Day 2 of my 5 day retreat.
Unlike the lone silence of my dinner the night before, tonight brought a different experience, as a group was holding a meeting, and their dinnertime energy was far different than mine. Sensing my desire to keep my quiet, a sensitive staff member suggested I take my dinner and eat alone in the library at the far end of the hall. Feeling a bit foolish but eager to comply, I picked up my tray and headed down the hall, all the while battling the turmoil going on inside of me over my waste of a precious day.
I sat down at the only table, and noticed a large book sitting with me, filled with the rich colors and the contemplative words that accompanied them. I began eating and opening the book simultaneously, feeling restless and ill at ease, not quite sure why, or what might be the cure.
But the cure found me, as is so often is the case. For the very first page of this unsolicited book gave me the words my heart was yearning to hear. And as I heard the soft words of God whispering my name, my heart was filled with grief over how easily I throw away my songs.
Come closer to me;
Let me play for you the music of the harp.
Can you hear it?
It rings of sorrow
And the struggles of human pain.
It hangs itself on the branches of the trees
And makes lamentation
For what is lost,
For what could have been,
For what is.
Come closer, my child.
Can you not hear the strumming
In your ears?
And sing to its melody.
Come closer to me,
Let me play you the music of the harp.
Would you like to play?
Give me your hands,
I will move them for you,
Over the strings.
You will learn for yourself this music,
Music that can change sorrow to joy
So that even the barren willows bear fruit.
Come closer, my friend.
Can you not hear the strumming
In your soul?
Hold it tenderly;
Let me sing to its melody.
Come closer to me.
Let us make music together,
Playing the harp
And breathing one breath,
As we sing the same song.
Will we let this music take us?
It will draw us into each other,
Harmonize us in a symphonic communion
That will never be outdone.
The music will create dancing,
And the dancing will gather us all.
Soon the music and the dancing
Will flow like a river,
Fertile water for new life.
Come closer, my beloved.
Can you not hear the strumming in our embrace?
Let the melody take us where it will.
By Richard N. Fragomeni
~ with special thanks to Sister Kathleen, for knowing what I needed most.
And I cried, and I ate, and I settled, and I knew, and I was fed.