Out Of Touch, Out Of Time

So, I’ve had another one of those things I like to call mind blips.
I call them that because well, it’s sort of… an irregularity in my head, or at the very least, it doesn’t happen all the time.
The ordinary became mind boggling, and well, to be frank, quite frightening.

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually – from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… timey wimey… stuff.”

On the subject of time do I speak. *insert little, wise, Yoda noises*
I  like planning my future.  I like every single moment, every day, week, year, and beyond to be planned to some extent.
To counter that, I’m terrible with writing in planners, as my mom likes to point out, but I suppose that could be because I go straight to the calendar and draw lines on it, connecting the days.  Watching.  Waiting.
So this Sunday led to yet another realization that, “Oh snap!  My time here is finite!”  The idea that summer would be here and gone was one reason that I started to delve into time.
To emphasize my point, I will start with the wise words of… the 12th Doctor.

“Cut along, you’re running out of time.”  “For what?”  “Everything.  Human beings have incredibly short life spans.”

And it’s quite true, at least, pertaining to life here on earth.
Oh, and also, before I go on, that’s two Doctor Who quotes in a matter of sentences.  I’ve reached my quota, and I promise I’ll stop there.
Sunday was this ideal moment.  I was kind of on a spiritual high after enrolling with the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, and prepared to do just about anything.  I was laying out my plans for the near future for my dad to hear while driving home from Youth Night, when something prompted me to ask him about… well, his life.

Curiosity.  A desire to actually learn something more about the great man that had and still continues to raise me to this very day?  Worry about an uncertain future?  There were a lot of reasons for my asking him.  I can’t help wondering what would have happened had I not made that decision to ask him.  He’d probably still remain a sort of… mystery.
If I’ve managed to reach any younger readers (but then again, we’re all young at heart, some more than others, so this goes to everybody), I’d encourage you all to take time to learn who your parents were and are today.  It’s a good exercise in learning family history, and understanding the growth process that they took.  I still need to get around to talking to my mom though.  I should write a reminder on that somewhere…

My dad has seen a lot in his lifetime, and there’s always those depressing thoughts you get about the eventuality of its running out, but sometimes you’ve got to push past them to… find out more.
Time.  Gift and burden?  It’s got to run out somewhere, right?
I… had an aunt.  Or would have.  I never knew her.  She was young when she died.  Apparently she resembled my sister quite a bit.  It’s hard to reconcile those images.  My dad, here and now, had a sister that he lost when he was much younger.  Almost… 30 years ago.
Then again, I had an older brother who I never met.  He’s gone too.  No wait… not gone.  Never gone.  No indeed.  He’s somewhere.  I can only pray that he’s still watching and interceding for me.
Maybe I’m a bit of a disappointment to him… or maybe, that’s just a terrible lie.  Yep, I’m continuing this thought in another post, I promise you, it will happen.  Something like… “Who Is Great Enough?” for a preliminary title.
Back to this one though.  There goes my planning mind.
In the midst of sadness, there’s still that joyful news.  My aunt and brother are dead, but not truly gone.  I imagine them beyond the veil, off into the West, up out of the shadowlands of old Narnia into Aslan’s country.
In case you have any doubts, I’m just making analogies.  Don’t worry, the line between reality and stories isn’t blurred in my head too badly.   Still, it’s nice to live in a world of fairy tales.  Death would probably be preferable to a world without books.  BUT I should be talking about time here.

Perfect timing music is perfect.  “Live Like We’re Dying” – Kris Allen

Time in all its complexity, from every blinking moment to the next, is filled with consequences, what ifs, and triumphs untold.  I’m just a tiny – no, quite – no, terrifically – yes, terrifically terrified of it.  It’s moving almost faster than the Flash.
This Sunday, and really any day that I’m with my St. Gertrude people, were more opportunities along my timeline to continue in growth.  To dare to join and unite with others that I interact with.  More moments to cherish.  More moments to figure out.  Now I’m rambling about moments, and probably blearily wasting some of my own.  Eh, it happens.  It’s like a record of a story.

Stories and time.  Here we are at last, at the point I’ve really been wanting to talk about.  The Golden (or Magic) Thread was a thought provoking story about this kid who basically tries to skip every bad moment of his life using a magic thread, but in doing so, he hasn’t really savored the good, and wastes what time he has on earth.  He watches as his children grow and leave him, his mother dies, and he and his wife rapidly age, speeding to their graves.
So that’s what I was thinking about, speeding off down the highway in the darkness of the night.
That led to my asking my dad about his life, to my thoughts on my long deceased relatives, to actually attempting to write this ongoing story to give to everyone who’s affected my life in some way.  Some possibly unapproved cameos will be had, naturally, but I get the feeling of wanting to leave something tangible for people.

See, this is basically a small glimpse into my head.  I try to stick to the subject of time, and I’m pretty sure I failed to stay on task.  Still, every dot is connected somehow, in some ways that might not yet be seen.

Just watch, and keep living every moment.  Reach out to others while you can, because…
Time flies.  Faster than you’d ever expect or want.  As my dad says, “Make every second count.”
Now I need to make sure that I actually do.
On that note, I bid thee all a good night.

-M (Benedict)

The Return, or “Of Silence And Retreats” Part 4

If you’ve ever read Narnia, especially the Last Battle, or the ending of The Lord of the Rings, or just the end of a really, really, awesome series, you know how I always feel at the end of retreats. The Last Battle is this super bittersweet ending to conclude the journey through Narnia, and it’s also the beginning of something greater.  So to leave it there is just… painful. I want to read more!  MORE!  But then you have to leave it there.  Like Heaven.
You get small glimpses through the lives of those who came before, but ultimately, you have to get there yourself to answer the question: “What lies beyond?” To finish a series is to take your eyes from the book and return to the world.  The difference between retreats and books is… well, you can return to the book.  It’s still quite painful to finish it over and over though.  The retreats, on the other hand, are – when taken individually, obviously – once in a lifetime, part of a larger, expanding journey.  To step out of time is to retreat from the world.

So, on that note, I awoke.  Sunday, 7:34, or somewhere around there anyway.  I manage to drop lightly to the floor, and have a… decently warm shower after a bit of a wait.  I’m still kind of out of it from last night, but the water revives me somewhat.  After showering, I dress in formal attire, because class, and because we’re having Sunday Mass later that day.  Collared shirt? Check.  Formal pants and a sweater vest? Check, check.  Formal shoes?  Yeah, no.  I wore boots to combat well… I chose that moment to look outside.  New snow was falling.  Yeah… to combat that.

The other guys in the dorm area are still getting ready, or just talking about stuff like ultimate, or what they’re planning to do after the retreat, so I make my exit.  Yes, I am not a social being.  A blast of cold meets me as I practically throw the door open.  Stepping through, glad that my coat is warm, I trudge through the icy snow, admiring the falling snowflakes.  They’re pretty.  It’s about 8:10 by this point, so I head over to the program building place… I never did learn what to call it. I’m in the doorway, and I step down the stairs leading to the main area, and plop a few items down in a seat.  Then I turn and head back upstairs, back to the entrance.  There are some people still there, messing around with ping pong and pool, and there’s that one guy, John, I believe his name was, just standing outside and staring straight up at the falling snow, just admiring the sky. Any person who does that is cool in my book, so I go out and join him, introduce myself, and then stare upward with him.

Pretty soon, the other people in the building take notice and join us outside, and we stand for a minute, just looking. Upon ending that, and realizing that we needed to get to breakfast, we took the hay path to the building (except for myself and a few others, because we’re rebels). Yeah, we went in, because I like noise.  Wait…

Humans, humans, humans.  Actually, to be fair, they just sounded normal, and I really didn’t care too much that it was loud, seeing as it’s the last day and all.  It’s quite pleasant to just sit down with a bunch of friends and re – oh, nope, they left for another table.  Jarod and Anna Grace vanish into the crowd, because they see other people they know.  Fortunately, I’m not all on my lonesome for long, because Andrew sits down at my empty table, and it’s like: “S’up, dude.”
It serves us well to be guys.

So we sit, we eat, I sip my coffee (even though it probably means continued shortness), and then suddenly, Mr. Bursa is sitting down with us, and we start discussing last night (or last post, basically).  I believe I mentioned that it wasn’t pre-planned?  If I didn’t, well, I’m saying it now.  The ending for last night, with the silence and spirit renouncing was totally unplanned.  God intervention.  Boom.
So that happened, and we all agreed that it really was a needed occurrence.  Rose Brier (from The Fairy Tales Retold) would approve of that idea of a Heavenly push.
We finish talking, and go back to enjoying our… um… was it Garlic Bread that day?  I don’t remember.  Food wasn’t important.  I did have cereal and the aforementioned coffee though, before the impending doom of an ending retreat loomed larger.  When I say that, I don’t mean that we were all actively thinking, “THIS IS THE END!” but it was brought to my attention by a booming voice calling announcements.  The dude, Bryan I think his name was, told us we had about 15 minutes until our final contemplation back in the other area, thing, which would immediately be followed by small groups and closing mass.

Everyone’s reaction: Nodding and whispering.  My reaction, internally: “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Yeah… I don’t take worldly returns all that well.
Still, nothing to be done.  I’m already here and I’m just relating the past, so, eh.
Finishing cleanup of the tables and what not, we walked the 50 meters across the fresh snow to reach Haven.  I’m calling it Haven now, because I like that word, and it’s accurate, because Jesus is (was, whatevs) there.
We took seats, but I decided to be nice this last time and take seats near Jarod and Anna Grace, right side, 9 rows from the front, close to the center.  Yeah, I kinda tried to remember those details.
But… it’s back in, for one last bow.

In retrospect, this last contemplation was both the most free flowing, and the most uplifting.  Because we had watched His death, now was… Resurrection Day.
~ we sing for joy we shout Your Name, we celebrate Your Resurrection day ~

Sunday, sunday, sundae.  No, I messed up that last one.  Oh well.  This contemplation was seriously peaceful.  The upper room.  Apostles are afraid, and the doors are locked.  Thomas, unfortunately, is not there.  Then He appears.  “Peace be with you.”  REJOICING!  Someone call the Patron Saint of Parties, because these guys should have been whooping with joy at His return.  Oh, wait, they’re pretty stunned.  That’s okay.  Jesus is just being His usual calming presence.  Then He’s gone.  Poor Thomas.  How he got showed when he was with them the next time.  Yeah, I’m saying he got showed, because he did totally get showed… the Stigmata!  I know, bad grammar, please excuse me, I’m excited.  Then we move on from the scene, and I briefly open my eyes.
As with all the other contemplations, or pretty much all of them, this was in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  Bask in the glory, we did.  We moved up to the front, because the clear space from yesterday was still present.
I confess, I soon fell into that in-between state, where you’re not exactly awake, but you’re not exactly asleep either.  This was when it was just me and Jesus.

It was just between us.  We could be silent, because being present was enough.  No really deep discussion, just being together, like Father and son.  That was my last contemplation on that retreat.  The Risen Lord and I, just hanging out like guys do.  You know, just sitting in companionable silence.  Like, super companionable silence.
“Peace be with you.”

Eyes flash open as Father Paul says that it’s finished.  We kneel as the Blessed Sacrament is repositioned, then stand for music times.  Hey, if you’ve got to go out, go singing.  Not that this is the end, but it’s coming up, so we give it our all.  Naturally.  Final small group.  Andrew, Michael, Mr. Ben, myself, and Brandon, or is it Daniel?  Sweet Glory, I’m terrible with names!  We plunge into what we’ve experienced, what we feel we’ve accomplished, and – wait, is that my little brother over there?
With a sinking feeling, I realize that yes it’s my family, and their presence is an indication of the close.  It’s almost finished.  We finish up small groups as families start entering the Haven.  Everybody hears a small group in the corner cheering like they do in like… well, cheerleader group things.  Earsplitting, but not entirely unpleasant because of the cheer, I suppose.
There are a ton of families by this point, and I jump into the rearranging of chairs so that they’ll have places to sit.  I claim a spot up front with Annie, Michael, Grady, Anna Grace, Jarod, Ally, Chris, Ninja (I never learned his real name), and a bunch of others whose faces are all but forgotten in my mind.

Mass begins.  It’s only on retreats or at events like Encounter that you can muster hundreds of teens who are willing to sing out.  Singing out like we’re in danger of losing our voices.  ~ there’s no place I’d rather be ~
The readings, the Gospel, the deacon’s homily, all things pass in a blur.  Suddenly we’re receiving Communion, and all too quickly, we’re receiving the final blessing from Father Paul.  Now I must one day visit Denver and say hi to him, because that priest is just awesome.

Closing song, and the priests and deacon are processing out.  Everybody claps and cheers, but there’s an undercurrent of regret that the retreat’s over, which can be sensed from myself and my peers.  We seat ourselves, and listen to final announcements.  Time is running against us.  It’s past 1 o’clock.  We thank the core team, and then sing, sing, sing.
But then it’s over, and I’m shaking several hands, promising to see them all soon.  I make the rounds.  I give hugs to those who are okay with them, going against my own nature to avoid hugs, because I’m kinda sad.  No holding back now, not here, not at the end of all things…
I go give manly handshakes + hugs to Grady, Michael, Chris, and Jarod, and give my normal awkward goodbye hug/handshake things to Annie and Anna Grace (Ally vanished).  Then I’m out the doorway, into the open air, heading back to the dorm.  I grab everything I have, and step back out into the snow with Andrew, who’s riding with me and my family.  We load the car, and we’re out of there.

In closing, I think this was an excellent breaking out retreat for me, with regards to the Saint Gertrude youth group, anyway.  I managed to make friends, which – if you know me – is rather difficult, what with me being me, unsocial little bugger that I am.  I tend to push others to be more social while ducking it myself.
I regret that this will be the end of my writings on this particular retreat, but I’m actually quite upbeat when I think of all that lies before me.  I’ll see those people and my other friends again soon, hopefully.  Nope, I’m depressing myself again, moving on.
Still, this retreat was, as many retreats are, another step in a larger journey.  But like every chapter, like every story, like every series, like every life, it’s got to come to an end somewhere, right?  I stepped out of the world for a blink in my lifetime, and now I have returned.  This world is dark, filled with both visible monsters and those lurking in the shadows, just out of sight.  I know that the return can create a new burden, that we might be lonely and – quite frankly – scared, but no matter how discouraging that is… we were given gifts of insanely immense power, whether we realized it or not.  So, as hard as it sounds, we collectively need to put aside our fears and doubts.  Why do I say that?  Because Jeremiah 29:11, that’s why.  And thus I say, prepare for glory.

– M

Deliverance, or “Of Silence And Retreats” Part 3

I’d like to thank my friend Kevin H. for some long remembered words that he told me on this one crazy, terrible night back in 2013.  The exact phrase escapes me, as quite a few things do, but I remember the gist of it quite well.
“Begone spirit of _(insert sin here)_, for I banish you to the nearest tabernacle in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and there, may He deal with you according to His will.”
It was kind of like that, but Kevin said it in a way more awesome fashion, obviously.  Plus he started jumping up and down excitedly soon afterward, if I remember correctly.  Those were some excellent words of encouragement, and I don’t think I ever really got to thank the guy for them, so here I do so now.
Why am I recalling words spoken almost two years ago?  Something clicked into place that Saturday on retreat.  God was calling, and those words resurfaced in my subconscious as we renounced spirits in the name of Jesus.

There’s still a long way to that point however, so please, bear with me.
Picking up the gauntlet where I dropped it, we end up finishing the Examen just as humans enter the building, which causes me to have problems with devoting my mental space to things, but whatever.  The noise level spikes as they walk in from the other workshop.  I can see them staring curiously at our much, much smaller group, obviously wondering what took place while they were gone.
I go grab my bag and coat from a few rows back and place them on, under, and near my front row seat.  Maybe I was getting more confident, maybe it was just because I had friends there.  Regardless, there I had sat, and there I stayed, ignoring the glowering looks that Anna Grace and Jarod shot my way.  I did pause to wonder whether they considered it abandonment and high treason in the courts of law (my moving up in the rows), but suddenly, my peers were on their feet as we launched into song, leaving me no chance to continue to ponder such things.
Now, I confess, I am very, very self conscious about my voice.  It cracks during the most inopportune moments, which leaves me as embarrassed as a… I can’t think of a good analogy at the moment, so never mind.  Suffice it to say, I sang quietly among the thunderous voices of the others surrounding me, still warming to the idea of actually singing out and praising the Lord.  We finished a song, then I found myself once again joining the storm.  Boom.  I conquered voice cracking.
Not.  It happened a few times.  Those high notes and they’re evil crackery.  I survived though, without major repercussions, through a good number of songs.  Then the sky opened, and the high noon sun shone through the glass doors of our little sanctuary.  In other words, lunch was calling.

Ah lunch, that blessed middle meal, that reminds me that I can’t go through a full day without hunger problems.  Grab the table, girls go first, yada yada yada.  This meal, I sat with Andrew and Grady, and Father Paul decided to join us, which was an awesome surprise.  We discussed college plans, heard announcements for the rest of the afternoon, and then… bazooka ball.

Now I don’t normally jump into things.  I tend to sneak, but this was no time for sneaking.  It was move or get shot in the fact by a rubber ball fired by a super awesome super – back up, some explanation is required.
The feared art of bazooka ball is the art of taking a modified paintball gun and shooting someone down with a rubber ball that doesn’t exactly fly straight.  It’s like dodgeball, expect you don’t need much strength in your arm.
It was a tiny cafeteria, so avoiding projectiles wasn’t exactly the easiest thing.  It’s like a mini-cannon going off next to your ear, shooting this gun, but we do it.  Red vs. Blue, with tables as obstacles? Bring it.  We would have done guys vs. girls, but some people didn’t like that, so we did numbers.  1 and 2.  Blah.  Then we went at it like the furious humans we were, leaping over barricades, shooting from cover, checking corners as we raced across the borderlands.  And when I say borderlands, I mean a black line drawn in the middle.
I managed to get quite a few good shots off if I do say so myself, and I do.  The winning shot was… actually mine.  I felt half guilty, half jubilant about it afterward.  One girl vs. two guys in the end.  My non-literal bro was flanking her from the right, so she rushed him with her gun.  As she was running, I aimed and fired in as smooth a motion as I could.  I had aimed ahead of her, taking a gamble, which paid off.  It took her in the side and the game was over.  It was a good shot.  Still guilty.

Then we were back into silence.  Into darkness.  Stepping into our serious shoes.  I have a pair of those.  They’re like the night.  No, I’m getting off topic.  Before we reentered the silent vigil in adoration, we had some serious laughing times.  The youth ministers like to talk a lot.  And it was hilarious.  Because they gave it their all, and said the weirdest things, telling us the strangest stories with pretty much no context, and that made it awesome.
~ walk a tightrope, walk a little tightrope ~
The guy who walked across the Niagara Falls had some serious guts.  Like, dude.  We heard stories about him from Mr. Bursa.  Do not attempt at home, especially if you have a huge waterfall in your backyard.
There was a nice little transition from that to trust.  Are we willing to trust God, as if He were the tightrope walker, and we were the passengers that He carried in a wheelbarrow?  Because I think most people understand the reference.  The man asked for a volunteer that he would take across the falls in a wheelbarrow.  Are we willing to entrust everything we are to God’s plans for us?  Let go of what we want to do with our lives and listen to Him?

Our next contemplation took us to the waters.  On stormy seas, under lightning filled skies, rode the little boat.  The Sea of Galilee tossed us about.  Fear gripped us.  Fear was our companion.  But God was there.  In the chaos, in the violent storms, He was there.  We saw Him, walking on the cresting waves as if they were a clear path.  I stepped out of the boat, watching through Peter’s eyes, focused only on Him.  Step after step, I barely noticed.  I was so enthralled.  I had fixed my eyes on Him.  And then I faltered.  I looked around and saw the chaos and turmoil of the seas, so reminiscent of life and its troubles.  Then I was sinking.  The waves pulled me under, and yet I managed to cry out, flailing my arms and reaching for something… anything.  Then I felt His hand grasp mine, pulling me up with mighty strength.

Awakening, discussion, dinner.  All these things following in the wake passed by in a blur.  I’d go into more detail, but there’s a point I want to reach that was super important to me.
After eating, regaining energy through food and drink, we were ushered back into the gym.  But it was a different atmosphere this time.  In silence we’d seen Jesus’ birth, some important moments of His life… and now… we would see Him endure His Crucifixion.
It was burning pain.  Mark after mark.  Bloody tear after bloody tear.  A sacrifice.  THE Sacrifice.  An offering to save us all.
In adoration before Him we knelt/sat/lay prostrate.  He was dying.  For all of us.  For each of us.  A chance at Heaven.  Sin weighed Him down.  Not His own.  Our sins.  Every last one of them.  No greater sacrifice.The scourging.  The crowds were yelling for blood.  For death.  For the destruction of hope.  We followed as He was taken up that long road.  The Way of the Cross.  Few seemed to cry for Him.  All saw Him nailed to the Cross.  Long was the time that He spent, hanging there.  A tangible sign for the ages.  I can’t bring myself to write much here.  There’s just… something holding me back.  I can’t stand knowing what I did.  What I failed to do.  The Cross was and is something that I can’t ever contemplate without wishing for… some retribution.
Then He died… and the earth itself trembled.

The deacon took up his post in front of the Monstrance.  Then he called for the renunciation of spirits.  Now, you must understand, here we all were, exhausted and fearful, and now called forth to renounce spirits.  It was rather frightening, if I’m honest, and I try to be here and now.
“Spirit of anger, I renounce you in the name of Jesus!”
That was just one of the many spirits that we called forth and banished.  The cry was taken up by each of us, for each sinful spirit that we knew had influence in our lives.  Again and again, we called them out, storming perhaps even Heaven itself.  Afraid?  You bet we were afraid!  Publicly calling out spirits that are affecting you isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do.  There were sins that I’d buried in the shadows that made me afraid to renounce them out loud, whether people could hear me or not.  An effort as hard as Friday night’s spirit wrestling within.  As I later recall, it was… comforting, and at the same time not, to hear all those voices who were with me in that struggle against particular sins.  I was not alone, but part of me wished that I were, in some ways.Here, during these renunciations, did I recall those words that Kevin spoke to me.  It was another moment of clarity.  Where past met present with blinding force.  I was shaken near my foundations, and it felt incredible.

Long, long, after many of the other teens had departed, I forced myself to sit there in the darkness and actually think without the noise of the world present.  It was different from my trying to sleep later that night, in that I wasn’t surrounded by snoring or trying to quiet my brain and not think so as to rest.  It was different because I was focusing on allowing my subconscious to pretty much flow freely, dwelling on death and its mysteries, among other things.  I know, it sounds weird, but that’s really the reason that I’m finishing this post now, in the – for the most part – darkness and near silence.  I’m thinking without restriction.  My brain is focused, but not tied to one subject.  I’m really hearing my own inner voice… thing.  Sure it sounds ridiculous at times, but I was… unburdened there.  My soul felt as if it were entombed with Jesus, yes, but I was emptied of some crushing weight.  Like after confession.  A confession to my brothers and sisters in Christ, and a coming to terms with the fact that yes, I am very, very, very imperfect, but the Doors have been opened for me.
It’s now up to me to reach.  It’s on me to accept the offer.

– M

Deep Breath, or “Of Silence and Retreats” Part 2

So let’s see… where did I leave off?

In the beginning, there was darkness, and humans were sleeping.  And then BOOM!  They weren’t sleeping anymore, once the lights came on.  Waking up in a bunk, dazed and confused, is how I started Saturday.  Why did I start Saturday like that?  Because the volume of hyper teens kept me up past my much desired bedtime.
Groggily, I managed to get through my morning routine, and get dressed for a new day!
It’s about… 7:45 by this point.  I’m over my exhaustion, adrenaline pumping through my veins, and suddenly I’m stepping out into the snow.  A blast of cold air blows into the building that I’m leaving, and suddenly, there I go, racing off to the activity building before breakfast.  Yes, this is like a narrative.
Slippery snow.  Traction.  I am grateful for my boots.  Extremely grateful.  And they prove to be what keeps me mostly upright.  Fortunately, there’s no fresh snow yet (and yes, I say yet), and I make my way out of the cold into this little area with a ping pong table, a pool table, another ordinary table, and the sort of balcony overlooking our main meeting place.  There are humans around, and I find myself without the desire to interact with such creatures at this time.  I walk downstairs.  No friends there.  I walk back up.  No friends there.  I’m just about to leave when Jarod shows up, with impeccable timing.  The dude knows how to appear just about anywhere.  I enjoy my silence, he enjoys silence, so we stand and awkwardly nod at one another while watching other people play pool.
Now, I like art.  It’s fun, and I’ll draw on just about anything if you give me a pencil.  That’s not to say that it’ll be good looking art, but I do try.  So I start drawing on my blue retreat folder while waiting for breakfast, and finally head over there, across the snow, towards cafeteria world.
Cafeteria world proved to be packed with enough humans to give a heart attack to a claustrophobic person… no, I’m lying.  I myself am claustrophobic, and I didn’t have a heart attack.  That’s good, right?  Anyway, Jarod and I take a seat with Anna Grace and her friends.  They’re chatting like girls do, and then breakfast line starts, the girls leave, and then suddenly, Jarod vanishes.  Maybe to grab his milk, maybe to chow down on salad or brownies, who knows?
The man never shows up again, and I find myself in the slightly awkward position of being the only guy sitting at a table with a group of girls.  It’s weird, because that plus my natural introversion just… doesn’t work.  I start eating once I have food, mostly because I don’t eat such food coloring infused cereal that often, and because I have coffee along with it.  I need that coffee.  Oh, and the other reason was so I wouldn’t have to talk and make a fool of myself in front of humans.  Yeah, that’s one of my constant fears.
So I’m silent, going along with the whole theme of the retreat, but not really, due to the fact that I’m just contemplating my cereal and my next bite, and we’re supposed to contemplate the Scriptures as Saint Ignatius did.  More on that later.
I make it past that awkward position and actually introduce myself to these three female humans without doing a single stupid thing.  It was like a miracle.  They turned out to be normal humans who were cool.
Morning prayer is up next, and us teens join Father and the deacon in its recitation.  I’m optimistic that it’s going to be an awesome day, and that’s a feeling I need to experience more.

Morning prayer, then… I believe it was mass next.  See, I’m quite fuzzy when it comes to the order of things.  Oh well, it happens.  We had mass, then the deacon led Adoration, and our first contemplation began, focused on the Nativity.  It was a joyous little scene, and for our exercise, Father Paul had us imagine the setting before actually putting the people into the world we saw.  I got to hug Jesus as a baby.  It was awesome.  And yeah, it was in our heads, but why on earth should that mean that it’s not real?
It was deep, it was personal, it was silent.  For the first time in a while, separated from the normal world of noise, music, and pressure, I was just… existing.  Super peaceful experience.  It’s like another side of the coin, or maybe just the edge, one infinitesimal moment of balance between separation and being around others.  I was experiencing something unique to me, but I wasn’t alone in it.  I was… tapping into one of the Joyful Mysteries.  I was viewing it.  I was taking a lesson from it.  I was simply living within it.

So naturally, upon emerging, I was more disoriented than anything.  The other image seemed to have held more clarity than the waking.  But I was back, among my peers, in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  Everybody was stirring, each taking something from that experience.  Journaling occurred, which I’m extremely grateful for, as I’m one of those people that has a short memory span unless the experience is like a shockwave to my system.
Small groups is next.  I interact with Daniel, Andrew, Michael, and our group leader, whose name escapes me at the moment.  We share our experience, and then sit in companionable silence.  Yeah, we really enjoyed that silence.  Basking in the glory.  It was powerful.  We regroup.  And then immediately, we’re separated once more.  This time, we’re sent to one of two different workshops, the first exploring the Examen, to better understand our failings, and the second discovering what side in the spiritual war we’re leaning towards.  I chose the former, as… well, I’ve had many, many falls in the spiritual sense, some farther than others, so I’d prefer to explore each one more in depth, and fall much less often.

Now I’m a fellow who enjoys er… discreetness.  Imagine my discomfort when a slightly newer friend of mine, Annie, pulled a seat up to the front row next to hers and told me to sit down.  There I’m thinking: “Lady, you are quite bold for trying to convince an introvert to sit up front.”  Quick, intense discussion was had, but the point is, I take the plunge.  I sit.  On edge.  But I sit.  And then we explore our failures, as a group, and in one-on-one, personal, human discussions.  I talk with Annie during these, about one of our favorite scripture verses from a sheet of paper that we’re given; about ways that we’ve experienced Christ’s work within us; about the prayer that we are about to dive into and experience.  Then we work our way through the Examen itself.  Each breath is deep and controlled as we analyze each moment of the day before.  From our rising to the moment we fall into sleep’s embrace.  I’m glad that my friends are present.  I can hear every little noise as I sit there in the darkness.  My other senses are more awake during this second session of deep silence.  They’re getting used to being utilized.  Every movement resonates quite loudly in my ears.
We’re almost finished when I hear the door upstairs creak open.  Disruption at its finest.  But I block it out, if only for a few moments longer.  Then our group has made it through.  An entire day, like a fleeting wisp of wind.  We’ve lived it.  We’ve analyzed it closely.  We move on.  Time for another dawn.  It’s only now that I really feel awake.  And there’s still much more to come.

– M

Of Silence And………. Retreats… Of Not Total Silence… Part… 1… Because Numbers

So… silence.  You could say it’s quiet.  Or boring.  Or completely alien.  The truth of the matter is, silence is pretty awesome.  Why am I writing about silence? Because of spring retreat.  I’ll explain eventually.

Now Friday is the blessed time when you (probably) start screaming, “END OF SCHOOL FOR THE WEEK!”
Once you get done, that is.  Spring retreat was all that minus the screaming part.  And when I say minus screaming, I mean at least those specific words, in that specific order.  Yes, there was noise.  Quite a bit of it, mostly this Friday, when rowdiness was akin to breathing.  But it wasn’t like: “School is finished for the week, and now I get to sit around viewing my phone/computer/tv!”  No, it was the… storm before the calm.  Because we all know what happens right after storms die, right?  There’s this…. whoosh…. no more storm now.  In the case of in-between storms, well, technically this is an accurate parallel to at least the latter.  Storm, calm, noise, silence… oh, beautiful silence.  Thank God for quiet.  Seriously, thank Him for it.  I’d go insane if I had noise going on around me 24/7.
So yes, I became a part of this storm, on Friday night.  Woodland Lakes Christian Camp is actually a quite nice place, probably.  I wouldn’t know.  I walked between three buildings the entire time I was there, so you should probably ask another source for details on the camp itself.  So, of those three buildings, the first I entered was the dormitory area.  No, lie.  I entered the… gym/cafeteria area first.  Registered, then boom, out of there like a shot.  2nd was the dormitory area, sorry about that.  Men’s dorm, anyway.  Pick a bunk, throw your stuff on top of it, laugh when you miss the bunk, and try again until you get it on top.  Your normal, standard routine, yes?
Sort of.  Grabbed my bags, did all that, yada yada yada, and then I took my important items, slung them over my back and picked up my water bottle, and headed off back to my dad’s car.  My dad, by the way, drove myself and my friend, Andrew, up to the camp.  He’s boss like that.  Anyway, we drove back through the snow, and entered… the sort of… secondary gym… I have no idea what it really was, but it was a nice place.  BOOM.  Instant noise level increase.  So there’s my dad, driving off back home, and then Andrew and I have stepped into storm town.  The place is reasonably large, and there aren’t that many teens there yet, but it was loud.

I quickly find at least a few of my friends.  Jarod and Anna Grace are the key two that I know, and we all just talk and mess around for an hour or so.  Meanwhile, the noise level increases… like a humming of bees, expect humans, obviously.  If it were bees, I’d be out of there like a shot!
The room darkens, and we quickly take our seats… all is silent for about… eh, 30 seconds.  Then the speaker starts.  His name is Charles, I have no idea how to spell his last name, and I’m not even going to try.  We’ve experienced a very brief calm… and now here is the storm once more… more like a thunderclap with the dude’s microphone, but close enough.  He starts with a story, so we’ll better understand who he is, then he invites us to be open and attentive.  Then, as he finishes up, we prepare for adoration.  Now adoration in general, is an awesome, awesome thing.  Having God present in the flesh?  YES.  It’s even more awesome when you’re around more than a hundred humans.  Especially friendly ones.  And friendly ones who you know.
So there we were, just basking in the glory of the risen Lord.  Confession lines opened up, and people quickly joined it.  I was hesitant.  Something was holding me back.  It was not the best situation.  The deacon leading us however, that dude has a way with words.  He was at the very front, kneeling before the monstrance.  Then he starts encouraging all of us to come forward as we are.  A chance.  And I took it.  Because I seriously needed it.  I was wrestling with myself inside, and it was almost like a contest of wills.  But I think the better half of myself won there.  After all, I did get into the confession line, and I was able to make peace with the Body of Christ through the priest’s assistance.  In short, it was one of my tougher confessions, but it was with a lighter heart that I rejoined my friends back at my seat.

The lights came back on, and Father Carroll took the lead as us teens, as a whole, finished up the night with Evening Prayer.  I’m telling you, when you have all these young voices joined in unison, it brings chills of awesome to the spine.
Then stragglers.  After cleaning up what needed to be cleaned, the guys marched through the night snow to our warm dorms, while the girls walked across the parking lot to their own designated sleeping areas.
Now by this time, it was almost midnight, and our group leaders had called for Grand Silence at that time, but before that… we had to be guys and do manly guy things.  Basically, we prayed the Divine Mercy ( very super manly, just saying), and ended with a “sleep chant”.  The sleep chant was – according to those who had done it before – supposed to make sleeping more peaceful.  I think they were seriously messing with us.  It went quiet to loud, chanting just one word.  The ruckus was like several firecrackers going off right next to our heads.  Basically, it was very painful.  Then we slept… no, I’m lying, we tried to sleep.  Imagine getting blasted in the face by cold air every few minutes, and having to listen to guys be insane until past 2am.  I can tell you, it’s not very conducive to a sleeping environment.  FINALLY, I managed to drift off.  Somehow.  And I think that this is where I’ll end part 1.  Because suspense.  Or some other ridiculous reason.  This is about the standard length of my posts anyway.  I’ll continue with a part 2.  Because you know, original, amirite?

– M