There are rare moments in one’s life when you are so filled with love that all other elements seem to repel from your being.
Monday is generally not a friend of mine. Especially a day like the one we all shared this week, with dark, perilous storm clouds swelling in the sky. On my commute to class that day as the clouds cried down on the campus, I found that not a single drop chipped away at my happiness. It was if my surroundings had halted, and all that mattered was the warm swell of joy that I felt in the deepest part of my heart that Manresa 29 provided me.
A year ago to the day, I wrote my first column about a formative experience of mine while going on the Manresa 27 retreat.
While reflecting on my faith and my newfound love of life discovered that weekend, I found out that a friend whom I had spent my childhood with had taken his life after a long battle with cancer that left his ability to participate fully in the things he used to love drastically compromised, even in remission. I left the retreat heartbroken and contemplative about the fleeting nature of life, all while starting the year long journey that would finally, after 21 years of struggle, led me to God.
Last weekend, I went on Manresa 29 as part of the leadership team, a reality that I never saw myself realizing as a person who had never been confident in my relationship with faith. I couldn’t tell you why I keep getting second, third and fourth chances after renouncing God and religion almost endless times in my life, but I can tell you that it’s a gift that is unlike anything on this earth.
In the planning stages of the retreat, I still felt the biting insecurity of my lack of relationship with God holding me back from giving my full self to retreatants, but thanks to the loving care and support of my fellow team members, I entered the weekend with spiritual confidence that I never knew that I had.
My role in the retreat was to give a talk on having a “faith that does justice.” I discussed my Northern Irish heritage, and its deep connection to my longing to serve social groups who have been marginalized through a career in journalism, “as if to make my entire life a prayer.” Most importantly, I discussed my reverence for Dorothy Day, a Catholic social-activist and journalist living in the 1920s. I didn’t end my speech with any massive epiphanies or revelations, but I felt sincerely affirmed by those around me about my path in life.
At the end of the beautiful, life-giving Saturday, I found myself sitting in Magnificat Chapel, listening to the soft purr of a expansive fountain and smelling the sweet tickle of freshly cut flowers that adorned the sacred space. While surrounded by a nothing but my thoughts, I thought I’d try my hand at praying.
Although I realize not a single person on earth really “knows” how to talk to God, I’ve tried just about everything in my life with no success.
After a few minutes of fitful frustration, I let my heart sit still, and instead of attempting to talk to an omnipresent, unexplainable force, I decided to say a few words to Dorothy Day. I asked her to keep me on the path of justice, keep me sane and empowered in my journalistic pursuits, and help me to embody a selflessness like hers.
While doing so, I examined the stunning architecture of the space, gliding my eye over high vaulted ceiling and the towering back wall of the altar. The beauty of it’s minimalism struck me, and I thought, “God is good.”
Now I know this doesn’t sound like much for a lot of folks, but for me personally, I was dumbfounded. When taken aback at the beauty of a sunset or the peaks of mountains, I have never unconsciously attributed God, but instead thought “the earth is an astounding place.” I have never organically had a thought so overt in my life, not because I didn’t believe it, but I had never felt close enough to my faith to let my heart remain still. In the peace of the weekend, I thought for the first time that I had grazed the surface of the love of God, a moment that I had longed for my entire life.
While this column may see like just another retreat cop out, I can promise you that I am far too practical to weave a tale of personal revelation without it being the honest truth. I am not sure if God or Dorothy Day “spoke” to me, nor do I need the answer. What I know, is that it is the closest I’ve ever gotten to feeling a starting a relationship with the Force that guides us, and I don’t want to stop the momentum. Thank you, Manresa 29, for pointing me in the direction of light.