Friday, April 03, 2009

Retreat summary

So I originally wanted to take a directed retreat at Mount Calvary, which my buddy Carlos told me about, but it burned down last November; I found Holy Resurrection Monastery, and their schedule seemed to match mine. But a couple of weeks ago I discovered, almost by accident, that they are now in the process of moving to Valyermo, so my visit with them was not going to work.

After some fruitless inquiries elsewhere, I eventually decided to just spend days at the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, which has quiet, pretty grounds and of course a church building. Motel6 is not far away.

So I drove to SLO and found the mission at the corner of Palm and Chorro; took a left onto Palm and parked in a municipal lot. I walked to the mission and found noontime mass in full swing. I didn't participate in their Communion (I'm not Catholic and I don't believe that the elements actually become the body and blood of Christ) but I could sincerely join in the rest of the mass.

I have the current issue of Conversations -- which among other things describes the Stations of the Cross. The mission building has fourteen corresponding paintings on its walls, and I spent some time contemplating Christ's walk down the road of sadness. I went out into the warm afternoon, and after a bit of walking discovered Louisa's Place, where I enjoyed their bottomless bowl of chili. The place always seems to be rather busy.

Some notes:
  • As long as I secretly adore myself, my own deficiencies will remain to torture me with an apparent defilement (Merton, No Man Is an Island, p. xxi)
  • The meaning of my life is not to be looked for merely in the sum total of my own achievements. It is seen only in the complete integration of my achievements and failures with the achievements and failures of my own generation, and society, and time. It is seen, above all, in my integration in the mystery of Christ (p. xxii)
  • May God preserve me from the love of a friend who will never dare to rebuke me (p. 10)
    What it means to be a good friend (as I desire to be): willing to rebuke but not only to rebuke. The above points strangely(?) relate to some of my thoughts en route.
  • Jesus had very few close friends when he was on earth (p. 12), yet "Love one another as I have loved you."
  • All desires but one can fail. The only desire that is infallibly fulfilled is the desire to be loved by God (p. 17)
  • Bodily agitation agitates the soul (p. 108)
It was around this time that a homeless fellow came up to me, asking about getting something to eat. At first I didn't understand him -- or perhaps I didn't want to understand him. But fortunately I came to my senses (aided by God?) so I offered to buy him something... he suggested 7-eleven and a hot dog combo (chips, and a 32-oz soft drink). I didn't know he was homeless, but as we walked there, I asked him if he lived nearby... then he told me. "Bummer, dude," I said, and asked him how long? A year and a half! He told me about some mistakes he'd made in the past (as we all have).

Afterward I wondered if there was something else I was supposed to tell him. Or something I'm supposed to say to the next guy. Lord, help me know what to do about that.

I called the motel for directions. When I got there, I read a little of Bolles's What Color Is Your Parachute? -- found a 2003 edition in the "free" pile at the library (2009: link). Bolles talks about a person's unique mission: to use the gifts God gave me, the gifts I enjoy and delight to use, in the places God has caused to appeal to me, for the purposes God wants to accomplish in the world. And as an imaginative exercise to clarify my values (not identical with, but related to that), what would I want people to say at my imaginary surprise testimonial dinner (as Covey's Seven Habits)? Probably something about how I helped and encouraged them.

Friday April 3

I woke early and did some more reading and writing and thinking and praying. I thought about that young homeless guy, and stopped by Food4Less on Higuera St. on the way into town. I bought apples and oranges, in case I should run into him again (I didn't). I parked at the mission and went into the sanctuary -- empty. Mass was at 7:00am, not 8:00 -- ah.... I sat for a while and read some from the spiritual exercises of Ignatius Loyola. Whle thinking about Adam and Eve's sin, it struck me that MacBeth was an antitype of Adam/Eve. Motivated by what was essentially a lie, he set his life on a course toward hell. I moved the car and walked to breakfast -- again at Louisa's. One thing about being in town, rather than being at a monastery, is the choices to be made. Eat at the same place or somewhere else? What's on the menu? My toilet kit is almost out of floss... should I stop and buy some?

After breakfast (a double portion of oatmeal -- they even had soy milk!), I went outside; it was still cold! And I thought it was supposed to warm up today. I found a place in the sun and did a little more reading, then went to Peet's and got some coffee. It was definitely warmer inside. A few more notes...
  • we... have to learn to see life as if it were something more than a hypnotizing telecast. (Merton, p. 33)
  • As a man is, so he prays. We make ourselves what we are by the way we address God.... All true prayer somehow confesses our absolute dependence on the Lord of life and death (pp. 42-43)
  • (speaking about the mount of transfiguration)... here a great change takes place in our spirit. All our love for God appears for us to have been full of imperfection, as indeed it has. (p. 47)
    Indeed! I feel my love for God is full of pollution -- it's polluted by my selfishness.
  • A pure intention sees that the will of God is always good. An impure intention, without doubting in theory... practically doubts that he can always will what is best for me.
    Lord, change my heart to really truly believe that your will is best for me in practice; perfect my love
  • The secret of pure intention is not to be sought in the renunciation of all advantage for ourselves. Our intentions are pure when we identify our advantage with God's glory and see that our happiness consists in doing His will becaue His will is right and good. (p. 54)
    Considering this in the light of Ignatius Loyola's exercises, (pp. 36ff, 2nd week, 1st day, 1st contemplation) what was it like for Mary -- to accept humiliation and shame and mortal danger -- Lord, help me to be like her! The Catholics may put rather much emphasis upon Mary, but they are right to recognize the severity of the sacrifice she made to become the mother of our Lord.
  • A man can live like a tree or an animal, doing the divine will all his life and never knowing anything about it (p. 57)
    Sometimes this is appealing! But comparing with Ephesians 5 -- "find out what pleases the Lord... do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is" -- apparently this is not the right way to live!
  • He does not need our sacrifices; he asks for our selves ... (obedience) is only the beginning. Charity, divine union; transformation in Christ: these are the end (p. 63)
I made it back to the Mission about a half-hour before the 12:10pm mass. Different preacher this time, and he talked about Christ's having come to the world to reconcile us to him. There is quite a lot of ritual in the mass, but the congregation participates in the prayer -- people praying for things they feel moved to: a man praying for help for the unemployed, someone praying for the rights of the unborn to be respected. I felt about ready for a nap....

Back to Louisa's for lunch, I had the chili. I picked up Conversations and read someone's remark that everyone sits next to his own pool of tears, because there is plenty to groan about in this life (Romans 8:22-27).

Of course I woke right up, sorta, after eating. Then I decided to declare my retreat over. I called the lovely Carol, drove back to the motel, and bought the $2.99 card for 24-hour wireless access. I posted these recent blog entries (setting the dates so they would almost make sense).

Oh, I packed a grocery sack for that homeless fellow -- a couple of apples, an orange, and a water bottle. As I got off 101 at Los Osos Valley Rd., I saw another homeless fellow. I pulled off the road and walked the bag over to him. He was pretty happy about it.

I do not know how to teach these guys to fish.

What I'll do next time

If I can't find a monastery, I will definitely try to find a motel within walking distance of whatever place I plan to hang out (even if travelodge wants $89 for one night, whereas I'm paying $94 for two nights at motel6, it might be worth it -- since i'm trying to do this, better to spend more and get the benefit, than to spend less and not get it. if i'm not gonna get the benefit, maybe better to stay home). I'll bring too much clothing rather than missing something. (Who woulda thought that I'd be freezing, 200 miles south/southeast from my home? The high temp is supposed to be 73°F today in SLO, but the weather service also warns of patchy frost tonight!)

But better to be in a place away from town, where there are not so many choices to be made, and where the car need never be started.

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