Lessons From My Three-Day Retreat (Part One)

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” — Rainer Maria Rilke

Image from Splash (@taylorgsimpson)

For the first time in my life, I decided to take a break from the chaos in everyday life by retreating to Claver House in the Central Region of Ghana for three days. No technology, no friends, nothing! Just me, God, my spiritual director, and my diary.

I don’t even know how to start. Okay. Let’s start from leaving the house to the retreat center. I actually went with a friend who also wanted a break and needed to figure out certain things and reconnect with the Supreme Being. So we left Accra together on Sunday afternoon using public transport and arrived at the center at about 5:00 PM that same day. Our journey was quite interesting as we prayed before the bus set off and after that, had a series of interesting conversations about relationships, temperament, our personalities, families, and so many other things. For me, during our conversation, we got to a point where we spoke about how we’re both struggling with our faith and she made a point that really stuck with me and I knew I needed to hear that before my retreat.

“The closer we get to the light, the more we realize how dark we are” — Eno K

She said this concerning Christian growth, that sometimes the more we do our best to get to know God, the more our faults become more evident which is normal and a good thing because the One True Light (Jesus) will do everything possible to purify us of every darkness as we draw closer to him.

“The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot comprehend the Light” — Gospel of John

I think that was the summary of our pre-retreat journey and I knew I was ready for the retreat. So once we got to the retreat center, we were introduced to our spiritual director, Fr Edmund SJ (PS: he’s a Jesuit) :), we were taken to our individual rooms, shown around the center, the kitchen (oh, how I love food), the chapel, summer huts, ironing room, offices, etc. During supper, omg! We had an amazing time during supper with four Jesuit priests! If you’re Catholic, I am sure you know about the Jesuits! Those people are learned and awesome!

PS: I found out that Kwame Nkrumah had one time thought about becoming a Jesuit priest! (It was recorded in his memoir) Imagine if he ever did! No independence for Ghana and Africa! Ha!

Evening came and morning followed… First Day! :)

Before retiring to bed on Sunday, I had a one-on-one with my spiritual director during which he asked me the reason for coming to the center. I knew I wanted a break, I knew I wanted to figure things out, but I didn’t know how exactly why I was there. But someway somehow, God had me there for a purpose. So we briefly talked about my prayer life, my Christian journey, and other things I do. It wasn’t for long as he wanted me to get enough rest to begin my retreat on Monday well rested! Before leaving, I was given two reading materials on the different ways of praying and two scripture passages before our next rendezvous.

Reflections on my reading materials & Scripture passages.

  1. The first material which I covered was on prayer and was written by Kevin O’Brien, SJ. This material briefly describes the art of journaling as a form of prayer.

Then the Lord answered me and said, “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it.” — Habbakuk 2:2

I really appreciated the power of writing as a form of prayer and reflected on the countless times I had simply written down things and how they literally came to pass. Below is an excerpt from the article

“Ignatius advises that we reflect on our experience of prayer. Keeping a journal is most helpful during a retreat. This exercise can be challenging because we are trying to put into words our encounter with God, who is Holy Mystery. Although it is challenging, trying to articulate such sublime experiences can help us discern how God is meeting us or leading us in our prayer. This journal is for your eyes only. When the retreat concludes, the journal becomes a rich spiritual treasure to which you can return months or even years after the retreat.”

2. The second material I covered explained the various ways or forms of praying. I got to understand praying with fantasy, the prayer of consideration, the prayer of meditation, and the prayer of contemplation. In a certain way, these forms of prayers are interrelated and we always tend to use them but are not fully aware of how we can fully tap into their power.

“You will find different names used elsewhere, which does not matter. What matters is that we call on all of our powers in order to love God better: memory, understanding, sense, perception, imagination, judgment, decision. With these powers, we think of God as “He” or “She”, which is good praying; and we speak with God as “You”, which is good praying. Each one of us is as able to pray as to breathe, for God is making us to pray.

I think a brief description of the various forms of prayer might help.

Praying With Fantasy: Daydreaming is fantasizing. In praying with fantasy, you go into God’s gaze and ask for what you want. Then you imagine things that have not really happened and perhaps cannot happen. Always, you gently begin the fantasy and gently let it fade. Ordinarily, you will come back to yourself with some insights or images, some deepened or strengthened convictions. Always turn to the Almighty God and speak in the second person, “Lord, You know how my imagination teaches me…….”

Prayer Of Consideration: This way of praying calls on your reasoning and understanding. You do in prayer just the same things you do when trying to understand why a person wrote a will as she did or what really underlies serious disagreements among school faculty. In this form of prayer, you always ask the Lord to keep you aware of His divine presence. This is usually for people who live very busy lives. You take the time during the day to ask yourself what you are doing and why you are doing it and examine if it is leading you to a deeper relationship with Christ or how you improve if it is not. This is a serious prayer. It is a prayer of consideration, which means applying our highest powers of intelligence to our lives and ourselves in the light of what we hope and believe for in Christ Jesus.

Prayer Of Meditation: When you meditate, you remember a real event by imagining it as it happened, perhaps in great detail and in exact sequence. You might not get entirely into it and become a part of the action yourself; rather you are more like a camera taking in the action and the sound. The result of this prayer is an enlightened faith and hope, a deeper understanding of God’s ways, and a stronger conviction. This kind of prayer tends to be full of images. For instance, you might read the final chapter of John’s gospel and visualize John saying, “It is the LORD” and Peter grabbing his gown and leaping into the water to swim ashore. That makes you eager to recognize Jesus Christ wherever He is and to go to Him promptly. In some way, the events of Jesus’ life becomes somewhat like a text to learn from and not only a story to listen to.

Prayer of Contemplation: With this prayer, I personally do not think I have experienced it before, or maybe I did but to some extent. With contemplation, you do not develop on your own but receive it from God. When you pray this way, you become completely absorbed in and by God and you seem to do very little or even nothing at all. You are simply resting in God. Sometimes, this happens without words or images, and those who experience it wonder whether they are praying at all and they often cannot find words to say what they have prayed about.

Yes! So for my first night, I covered quite a lot on prayer. Sorry if you had to read too long! :) Now let’s move on to the beginning of my retreat. This was actually the starter pack!

Evening came….. and morning followed. The Second Day :)

Don’t get confused. This is the second day at the retreat center but the first day of my retreat. :)

The Principle & Foundation Of Our Lives. — “Our hearts are created for you, O Lord, and they will be restless until they find their rest in you” (St. Augustine)

I started my first day with Holy Mass and then after spent some time with my spiritual director discussing my understanding of the various forms of prayer which he shared with me the previous night. On this day, I was given a document called “The Principle & Foundation Of Our Lives.”

It was a spiritual exercise to help me re-examine the ultimate meaning and goal of my life. So I began by asking the fundamental and foundational questions. Who is God for me? Who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going? What is the purpose of my life? What is the purpose of creation? What is my relationship with creation?

So the whole day, I had to reflect on three main questions.

Who is God for me? Or my images of God. (Mt 5:45, Lk15:23, Jn10:10, Is49:7, Heb4:14–16)

Who am I?(Gen1:26)

What is the purpose of my life? (Rom8:29–30, Eph3, 2Pt1)

These three questions made me realize a whole lot! I realized we usually create fearful and distorted images of God and these images prevent us from experiencing God as He really is. He ever ceases to get involved in our lives. He is never tired of giving and forgiving. He accepts us and forgives us and accompanies us in our struggles all the time.

At the end of day one’s retreat, I looked at the First Principle & Foundation as written by St.Ignatius. Below is just an excerpt.

“The goal of our life is to live with God forever. God, who loves us, gave us life. Our own response of love allows God’s life to flow into us without limit.

All things in this world are gifts from God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily. As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God as long as they help us develop as loving persons. But if these gifts become the center of our lives, they displace God and so hinder our growth toward our goal.

In everyday life then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice and are not bound by some obligation. We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.

Our only desire and our one choice should be this, I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening his life in me.”

I took my time to digest every single point from the Principle & Foundation. For me, my greatest take away from this was;

“For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God” — St. Ignatius

I will continue with Part Two in my next post.

I pray for the grace that you see the world as a product of love. To affirm the goodness of the world and to know that you are a product of God’s love.

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