I recently went on a spiritual retreat, something I have been planning on doing for the past 5 years. That’s how long it has been since I last went on one, when I was in fourth form. Yup, it’s been 5 years, the lines on my face getting deeper. I must endeavour to smile and laugh more, so that my laugh lines are the most prominent. #AgingGracefully
Retreat was refreshing, reflective, rejuvenating as well as a major real-life throwback. It was organised by my former school and we went where we used to go while I was still in school, Tigoni. Many things in life have changed, how interesting that others remain the same. Tigoni is still the same. The wooden house still creaks like an un-oiled hinge. Not a single move shall go undocumented in that house. Some of my teachers are still there. A tad bit greyer but that is honestly the only mark that time has left on them. What do they put in the water at that school? That is what I would like to know. They are still warm, elegant, always hinting that we must try to do and be better, the teachers that is. Even the chaplain that was there 10 years ago, when I was in class 5, is back! Greyer, but he still looks much the same and is still funny. Like I said, interesting that some things seem not to have changed at all.
As always, the first talk is an orientation of sorts. One of the main things stressed is silence and retreat. Stepping back from life, the world and chatter of the outside and looking within oneself and for God. I decided to keep my phone off for the weekend, which was a big big step! My phone is a prominent feature of my right hand. Just as my left hand feels naked without a watch, my right seems incomplete without my phone. I survived.
I remember sitting in the chapel one morning, a small and picturesque chapel it is. Silent and serene atmosphere, red and yellow roses on the altar, tabernacle draped in green, a checked pattern of black and white boxes on the ceiling. I picked up a little booklet on the way in, there are some on the pew by the door. Reading material to give some direction to our personal prayer time for those who may be a little at odds with what to do without a phone and the internet to keep the mind occupied. For the mind untrained in silence and meditation. Mine. The little booklet I pick has to do with mental prayer. I smile. It tells me many things I have been told, read about and thought about many times before. Not so much in the past 4-5 years, but enough times to easily remember without much prompting. A few minutes into reading the booklet, it is noon. One of the mentors at the retreat, a lady seated behind me, dressed in all black and with the most solemn face I can remember seeing asks us all to stand and say The Angelus, a prayer. Again, something I have not thought of or done in years, I smile. I keep smiling because I am at the same time surprised and not surprised that 5 years later, I still remember, verbatim, the whole prayer. I had forgotten, forgotten to remember but not forgotten.
After The Angelus, I get back to my booklet and when I am done, I decide to do some mental prayer.
‘Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.’
I am thinking about this passage and wondering whether in a present day context I would have dropped everything and gone. When reading about Simon Peter, John and the rest it seems easy, doesn’t it? There is not a hint that they hesitated or even doubted their choice. They immediately dropped everything and followed Christ. I can tell you for a fact, even when being summoned by my parents, my brothers and I only respond with immediacy when we suspect we are being summoned for crisps or chocolate, generally just junk food. Normally, I will be thinking that if I could just finish writing this one paragraph before losing the train of thought, or reading that one chapter, or watching that one episode, this, because I suspect I am in fact being summoned to wash dishes or type up some work or figure out why emails notifications aren’t coming through to the phone. The disciples were dropping their livelihoods and not thinking twice about it!
If you were just about to open a forex position that you anticipate will make you several thousands of dollars richer, would you drop everything and follow Christ? Or if you were just about to catch a flight to Singapore to to represent Kenya in a rugby 7s tournament, or on your way to State House cause you were being honoured for some achievement in your career. It’s not as easy, is it?
During one of the day’s meditations, I watch someone’s head gently bob back and forth. The girl sitting in-front of me. Meditations are held in the chapel, facilitated by the priest and for some reason, my guess is so that there are minimal distractions, most of the lights are turned off, the shutters are closed and only one light is on, the one illuminating the priest’s desk. Perhaps also for dramatic effect. Heh heh! This girl sitting in-front of me, I watch her head bob, so much for not getting distracted, and think to myself how proud I am that at least I am not sleeping through the priest’s meditation. Busy feeling superior when I am in fact no better, if anything, worse, because not only am I not paying attention, I am, well, busy feeling superior because I am not asleep! Sigh.
I am really just getting at the fact that, my mind wanders a lot. I will blame the world we live in right now. With so many things calling for our attention, it is no wonder that in an environment devoid of any distractions, my mind actively, fiercely seeks them.
In a talk back at the house, I sit right at the front, next to the speaker, in an attempt to tame my wandering mind. Figured that with nothing but the speaker and my notebook ahead of me, I would have no choice but to pay attention. Well, that is not exactly how things went. I overlooked the colourful wooden fish decorations hanging on the wall right above the speaker’s head(Pun intended). From there, well, my mind found itself running wild in a ‘Finding Nemo’ kinda scenario before I managed to reel it in. Want to know what my mind is capable of? Imagine a sweater, a beautifully knit sweater with one piece of string awkwardly sticking out at the cuff, not neatened properly. My mind, would likely pull at that string and unravel the whole sweater before I successfully reign it in.
Resolutions. The weekend would have been a waste if I did not leave with the resolve to change at least one thing! The priest advices that a maximum of 3 resolutions should be made, because let us face it, we could write down a list of 10 things and find ourselves at the same place a year later. Two is even better. Just one is best, increased likelihood of success. One of mine, I made more than 3, was mental prayer.
I sit there, talking myself into resolving to do 5 minutes of mental prayer everyday. Just 5. It will be hard to start with. 5 minutes seems small and doable, but also small and easily put off as well as small and easy to overlook. Like with everything else you aspire to be Kathleen(me being real with myself, a little serving of tough love), you workout 6 days a week for 25 minutes to stay fit, you write(or at least try to) a minimum of 500 words(not been happening though) a day, 3 Duolingo Spanish exercises, all in a bid to reach certain goals. It is hard to start with. It gets easier with time, especially if you slot them in at a fixed time everyday. It is the exact same thing with prayer. It will be hard. It will get easier. Soon enough it will be part of you. Then I stop and wonder if that was prayer. If me regurgitating wisdom and lessons soaked up intentionally and unintentionally over the course of my life is prayer. If that is God using the always mumbling voice in my head and the experiences of my life to show me that…I can do this.
Is that you God?
Perhaps talking to someone and being enriched by their wisdom and experiences is God’s doing too.
A week later, still struggling to attain my goal of 5 minutes of mental prayer a day.