I just returned from helping out at a retreat weekend, and though I’ve been a part of many such weekends, I always learn and take away something new. It seems we go to things like these when we most need it, and this weekend was no exception. Sometimes we hear something in one of the talks, or from another participant, or at mass that strikes us intently and forcefully as though it’s from the very mouth of God for us.
The inside cover of my notebook is filled with little nuggets that may have been what God was trying to teach me this weekend. “God goes first.” “He’s the one who picks you up.” “We’re into a death and new life thing here.” “If I just wait, there is always a reason for everything.” All small bits of wisdom I needed to internalize, but nothing that hit me like a bolt of lightning, nothing that brought the whole thing together for me.
On one of the days, I looked through the chapel and found parallels from my own life in the stations of the cross. I scribbled my thoughts on the back of an index card to digest later, and they’re worth studying and applying for sure. After all, I’ve accepted a cross and I’ve fallen many, many times. I’ve had desperate moments as both a daughter and a mother and I know the strength and complexity of that relationship. I’ve had dear women come and dry my tears like Veronica dried the tears of Jesus. I’ve had help carrying my cross as Simon helped his friend. I’ve died to myself, let go of ideas, dreams, wishes, and my own strong will, at least for a time. I’ve been stripped of everything I thought I needed and I’ve descended lower than I ever thought I could go. And I’ve waited in a dark, cold place for resurrection, for new life and the light to come flooding in.
So there’s lots there for me to pray on, and I will, but the part that cracked me open this weekend came toward the very end. One of the speakers retold the story of the prodigal son in such a way that tears came streaming down my face. I could never do it justice here and I won’t try, but suffice it to say this beautiful, gentle woman became strong and animated in a way I hadn’t seen before. The force of her story was Jesus speaking through her, to me. After all, I’ve been a person who waits on the edge of her seat to welcome someone home, and I’ve been a wandering soul who finally does return. That reunion is at the heart of our faith, and that extravagant love is the very heart of God. I needed to feel it, again. Thanks be to God, I did.
She ended her talk with a blessing, and it’s a blessing I’ve heard and proclaimed and even sung many times before. Something about the way she said the words cut right to my soul, rewired my mind, brought order to my priorities, and reassured me in a way I really needed.
The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make His face to shine upon you
And be gracious to you
The Lord lift His countenance upon you
And give you peace
As she said the last line, she looked to me like a prophet, a messenger of light, a deliverer of actual peace and as she spoke it over us, I received it as I never had before. All at once, my soul was calm and quiet, like a weaned child with its mother. (psalm 131:2) It felt like coming home.
He. Gave. Me. Peace.
And, oh, how I needed it. Thanks be to God.