Lockdown longing and a longing for God
Anita Compton recently took part in an online individually guided retreat organised by the wider mission team at Jesuits in Britain. Here she reflects on her experience.
I had been feeling spiritually lethargic for a while, with a waning desire for God. I was disappointed in my hit and miss prayer life, infidelity, and inconsistent trust. Then an email popped into my inbox from the Jesuits in Britain offering a home retreat with a designated spiritual director. It could be intensive – over six days or once a week over six weeks. I opted for an intensive retreat, cheekily stating that I would prefer a priest or a religious to accompany me, yet would willingly accept whomever might be chosen. On Sunday 17th May the Divine adventure began with Sr Catherine who was selected to guide me. Looking back, I am sure she was God-sent as the journey felt tailor made.
What the retreat entailed
The structure of the intensive retreat was 3 half hour sessions of daily prayer based on 3 short passages of scripture. Sr Catherine suggested creating a space with a focus in which to meet with God. A place where I could be still, silent, put myself in the presence of God and respond in the simplicity of prayer. Each day she would meet me virtually for 45 minutes to listen, reflect and consider what God might be saying to and asking of me. After discussion I was given the readings for the next day using the Lectio Divina method. That meant reading the passage slowly twice, seeing what grabbed my attention and considering how or where God might be speaking to me.
Prayer as a relationship with God
Most importantly Sr Catherine noted that praying is our relationship with God. A retreat is done with the intention of giving attention to God while being in His presence, asking for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. She offered the analogy of family life, noting that often the people we live with are present, but we may not be present to them. We may be too preoccupied with our own stuff or jobs and not give those around us proper attention. Does that sound familiar? As we can be inattentive with those closest to us, so we can be with God. This was an opportunity to pay full attention to God and notice the patterns and themes that emerged for me, thanking God for showing them.
If you’re anything like me, you may find it hard at times to discern God’s voice or even feel His presence. Sr Catherine reminded me; that God is always present in our lives; it’s we who are absent at times and do not notice how God is working. Our journey with God is lifelong; the deeper we go on our journey, the more we discover there is to penetrate. God can be known to us, yet there is always more. God is endless and there is mystery. the ways of God are different to ours as is His tender infinite mercy, everlasting love and his dependable astonishing faithfulness. While we waiver, or like me, go into and out of the relationship, He is steadfast. I mentioned to her my fear of judgment, not measuring up, and regret for some things I ‘ve done in my life. She gently reminded me to look at God, his character and essence, revealed through Jesus who shows us the Father. God knows each of us intimately, he knows we are human and Jesus took our fragile humanity to Heaven at his Ascension
In God’s house are many mansions and that Jesus promises to prepare a place for us. It is a promise to hold onto and to remind ourselves of the eternal journey we are on.
That like the Potter, in Jeremiah, God remoulds us. Nothing is wasted.
The riches of scripture
18 short scriptures were given to me over 6 days. I meditated on and prayed through them, noting my response and resistance. I pondered on what might be asked of me for these sunset years. Sr Catherine reminded me to ask God for His grace and help. She also asked me to think of my lifeline from birth to the present day and to notice how and where God was in the highs and lows of my life. That exercise helped me discover the iridescent glorious thread of God’s sewing through my journey.
Meditating on the short familiar scriptures like Matt 11:28 ‘Come to me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest’ yielded new perceptions. Even if we feel that the world we inhabit and our lives are falling apart, Jesus promises his rest to all who turn to him- his peace, when we give all that we struggle with to Him. His rest is an open offer and promise to each of us which we receive when we come to him and through prayer. Another Scripture from Psalm 63 speaks of the Psalmist longing for God while gazing in the sanctuary. Once again Sr Catherine startled me with her insights about ‘lockdown longing’. She suggested that the intense awareness of longing of grandparents, parents, family and friends to see and hug each other is part of the current climate. If we notice this longing, we can re-imagine with the Psalmist what it is like to long for God.
Psalm 139 reminded me that God searches us and knows us intimately from our formation in our mother’s wombs. He knows our thoughts before we think them and even what we will do. Even when I hide from him on the furthest shore, God is there as the psalmist says, yet He will lead me/us, by His right hand. Even the darkness is light for him. Then I recollected Daniel 2:22 one of my favourite scriptures, ‘He reveals deep and hidden things, he knows what is in the darkness and light dwells in Him.
So there is no escaping from God – he remembers our deepest and heartfelt intentions, expressed at one time or another and does not forget them… even if we forget that we are in His Presence. He allows us to make our decisions and live on the furthest shores but even there he will rescue and lead me/us. He loves us just as we are, but a relationship with him does not leave us as we are. It transforms us. Isaiah 1-18 stretches us to our limits with God’s promise that though ‘our sins are scarlet, they will be white as snow.’ What unfathomable love we are offered when we turn to God wholeheartedly.
When we reflect on our lives we can see how and where God has been remoulding us, like the Potter in Jeremiah 18:1-6. Nothing is wasted. At the crossroads, decisions are required and Jeremiah 6:16 entreats us to ‘search out and follow the ancient paths.’ The crossroads have different shapes and possibility, offering choice and potential. A wrong turning entails the parting of ways. The road we take has consequences. Many things came to me about the roads and detours that I have travelled and taken, some have lead me away from God’s influence, resulting in agony.
It came to me that the only road to travel on is the way of the Cross. It leads to the Resurrection, the Ascension and eternal life, with Jesus showing us the way and taking us in our frail humanity to the Father. We have the promise of the Holy Spirit this Pentecost, sent to guide us, even anoint us on our unique way.
The promises of God
The retreat opened my eyes to the character and essence of God. I have been left with rich graces gleaned from the short passages through prayer. The promises of God I found in the scriptures echo in my ears and I am left marvelling at God’s steadfast love, faithfulness, exquisite mercy and tender remoulding.
Pentecost promises that we can be guided by the Holy Spirit and re-ignited through the flames of Divine Love. Amen.
Finally, I cannot thank the Jesuits in Britain enough for offering this retreat at home or Sr Catherine for her gentle understanding, spiritual gems and wise counsel.