The wind was beginning to stir when we arrived for our silent retreat. As we collected in the beautiful chapel at the retreat center to pray, I looked outside the windows at the incredible view of the woods in the hilly countryside of western middle Tennessee. The same woods where Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash found reprieve, became the setting for a weekend of what Fr Peter, our retreat leader for the weekend, set the tone as he aptly appointed in a comical yet motivating voice, “These are spiritual EXERCISES! Not a spiritual VACATION!” Gulp.
I won’t lie…I was uncomfortable with that call over my spirit. I felt that “still small voice” stir my soul, (1 Kings 19:12) and my attention was directed to the forest of centuries-old trees that surround the retreat house. They were swaying in the gentle breeze; I heard a whisper…”Trees do bend, though straight and tall.” It was the words to a song we had heard in church many times during my youth; one of my favorites from the story of Hosea in the bible. I had even taught this song to my youth group 20 years ago because of the way it speaks to us as sinners, although I hadn’t thought about it in many years. It came upon my heart as I sat in the chapel. “Come back to me…”
When we went outside to do our Stations of the Cross prayer, an outside prayer walk through the passion and crucifixion of Christ, before locking up my phone for the weekend (we had not entered into sacred silence yet), I snapped a picture of these stately trees, I knew their ominous movement represented something to do with what I was going to experience this weekend.
A day and a half later, it felt like I had taken a trip to the farthest destination of my life, though only an hour away from my home, and only for what was actually two days. I went to the most remote destination that I know I will visit in my lifetime of travel.
We had several nursing mothers with newborn babies on our weekend, and almost all the women, being women, at one point or another held one of those precious infants to give these sacrificing mothers a chance at their own spiritual renewal, but really it was more than that. I believe it was God saying, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Holding one of these precious tiny people, pure and fresh from Heaven, I realized God was showing me that I too, could become new again. And as it went, I did emerge from this journey like a newborn baby; tender, fresh, and very vulnerable.
And as we prepared to depart to go back to our families and our “busy” lives, although changed forever, we closed our time with Jesus with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and as tears once again filled my eyes from the unimaginable graces that were poured into that journey by God, the gifted musicians in the back of the room (His Own, a musical group and sisters in Christ who accompanied us for the weekend) began to sing the song I had not heard in years that God laid upon my soul as I had peered out the window just 48 hours earlier…”Come back to me, with all your heart…”
Come back to me with all your heart
Don’t let fear keep us apart
Trees do bend though straight and tall
So must we to others call
Long have I waited for
Your coming home to me
And living deeply our new life
The wilderness will lead you
To the place where I will speak
Integrity and justice
You shall know.
by: Gregory Norbert, OSB