Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Surprising Love

I wanted to share a journal entry from last weekend. I'm a little apprehensive, because sometimes when I hear people speak about these things, I think there's a good chance they're crazy. But, when it comes down to it, I believe the spiritual realm is just as real as the physical realm. Probably more real, in many ways. Just tougher to tap into because of the noise of the world.

Before getting into the entry, here's the back-story. With my departure from Nashville, my home of almost 6 years, only a couple weeks away, I've been feeling like my to-do and to-see lists are eating me alive. And as I take these concerns to God, He continually draws me towards letting go of my lists, my worries, and my control, and asks that I just focus on Him. So it has been a struggle to find a balance between tying up loose ends and getting rid of all my stuff before leaving the country, and just resting and being still and listening for the voice that is drawing me to this new life in the first place.

And, if you know me, I'm really not very good and 'shutting off.' Really not good at all. I can't take naps, I can't read if I'm at home, I can't just veg out in front of the tube. I can't even sit still. Especially in the midst of such an all-consuming transition.

So, I took a silent retreat last weekend to the Passionist Convent in Whitesville, KY. I figured the only way to actually get quiet in the midst of my current place in life would be to get out of town and take a vow of silence.

The gist of the Passionist Convent: There's currently 19 'cloistered' nuns, meaning they live their lives in silence, using their voices only in mass for reading scripture, singing hymns (in HEARTBREAKINGLY beautifully puretone, I might add), and prayer. Their entire lives are devoted to contemplating the Passion of Christ, and his birth, life, death, resurrection, and salvation. It sounds pretty wild, but it was such a joy being in their presence, and really made me hunger for the fruit that can only come from lengthy solitude. One of the nuns, Sister Mary, is delegated to speak so that she may perform simple housekeeping and business affairs, and to greet guests. She painted a picture of their life and vocation as so fulfilling and rewarding. Her love was just contagious.

My prayer going into the weekend was that God would make me genuinely aware of his presence, and that the love of Jesus would be impressed upon me in new and compelling ways. This felt like stepping out on limb for me, as I've been hashing so much out concerning Faith vs. the dogma of my youth. But, Jesus has brought me so far down this path, I thought it only fair to 'give him the weekend,' so to speak, just to do with what he would. But I never imagined the staggering ways in which He'd answer my prayer.

I wrote:

I went to afternoon mass, the nuns' mid-afternoon prayer & mercy chaplet. They sang humns in their beautiful puretone unison, followed by a reading from Jeremiah, followed by what became an interesting experience for me. I followed their lead to my knees, and the sisters began a peculiar call and response chant. At first I didn't notice what it was, as I was praying some prayer of my own, concerning my friends who are currently abroad, ministering to the nations.

Through my prayer, the sisters' communal prayer slowly crept through. I don't know how many repetitions it took the prayer to reach my brain, but by the time I knew what was happening I was already moving my lips with their words:
Call: "For the sake of His sorrowful passion . . ."
Response: "Have mercy on us, and on the whole world."

By the twentieth repetition I found myself beseeching God to set the dreams He's given my friends on fire, that the fire would RAGE and ignite their whole lives, their entire being, that the self in these dreams would fall to ashes as the flames grow higher, stoked and fueled by Christ's untameable love.

What? I thought. This doesn't sound like me. Where's the grounded logic? Where's the tethered cynicism and realism? Nonetheless, the words were on my lips.

Another 50 repetitions, and my heart began to race, then to flutter and skip, and then to palpitate. It felt physically on the brink of bursting. I was afraid I was going to pass out, that I would fall to the floor in seizure.

I wondered if Nuns know CPR.

I fleetingly wondered if 'Cloistered' means they can't administer it.

Forget it, give in, said a voice.

"Jesus I invite you into this. I hope it's you, 'cause it's weird as crap, but either way - be here now."

At this, the symptoms grew in intensity. I felt my rips expand, painfully. I could see the crucifix spinning overhead through closed eyes. I was reeling.

Could they have really spoken this a hundred times? Two hundred? How long will this go on?

"For the sake of His sorrowful passion. . ."

"Have mercy on us and on the whole world."

"For the sake of His sorrowful passion. . ."

"Have mercy on us and on the whole world."

How can this frail old voice speak such power?

Heart beating an irregular drum-roll, I lost space and time. When I came to, rocking back and forth on my knees, there were only a handful of nuns still in the chapel: three remained genuflect in prayer, and one was setting up for the next of the hours.

I sat for a bit collecting myself and wiping sweat & tears away, then floated out back, past the holy water and into the arcade, where I began to wonder what work had just been done in me, and whether I would ever even know.

Praise Jesus. What else can you do?

I figured this was somehow the purpose of my weekend, that I was there at the convent to prepare for, have, and reflect on this experience. I discovered within the evening that Jesus had much more in store for me. I added to the above journal entry later in the evening:

So, exhausted from this experience, I collapsed into bed. Some time later I awoke to the sound of the other retreatants shuffling past my door to dinner in silence. I rousted myself, immediately identifying my mood as "grumpy." I'll make it though, I thought, but I'm ready to go. This wasn't fun any more.

As I ate, remembering I'd promised to give Jesus the whole weekend, I relented and invited Jesus into my grumpiness. "Are you ready for this?" I heard. "Ready for what?" I asked. "Son, I just showed you an image of a shadow of the burden of love that I took to the cross." "Oh, I don't know then," I responded as I looked up at a picture of Jesus on the wall. "Take your time," I heard.

As I slowly let this strange invitation sink in, tears began to well up, of empathy or reluctant submission. "If you're there, I'll go." And as I said this, my still aching heart broke under the weight of Christ's love for the world, and I began to weep. We're talking WEEP. And I'm not what you'd call a 'crier.'

Collapsing into my chamber, I melted into a puddle of busted love, for the sake of His sorrowful passion, and wrapped myself in His garment of grace.


  1. You should never feel apprehensive about sharing something as beautiful and freeing as that must have been in a way! Thank you! Can't wait to see you back in KC soon! Wish Jesse and I could be there for the concert on Saturday!
    -Amy :o)

  2. oh my....just reading this i was brought to tears...beau you are an amazing writer...but way more than that...its so evident God is preparing you for HUGE things. thank you for sharing your heart.