(For the past several months, I've participated in a group organized by Oasis Ministries that meets for monthly silent retreat days. We meet one Saturday a month at an old farm turned retreat center near Elizabethown, PA.)
I arrive in the nick of time, lugging a bag of books, my purse and a packed lunch. Inside the old farm door I exchange greetings with a few and make my way to the bathroom. Then I throw back a quick cup of coffee – I’m not fully awake yet – and head in to join the circle of silence.
After a period of silent prayer and some brief reflection, the nine of us split off in different directions. I make a beeline for more coffee and then head upstairs to a bedroom alone. I journal briefly before doing what I know cannot be put off any longer. Tipping to my side, I curl up with an ugly blanket on an even uglier couch and, in seconds, I drift off to sleep.
I wake to lunch time. In the cold dining room, I eat around a long table with women who are mostly twenty to thirty years older than me. I crunch red peppers and carrot sticks and crack my hard boiled egg too loudly on the table before realizing I can crush it gently with my fingers. I drink hot tea at lunch, a follow-up to my hot coffee, because I’m cold and can’t seem to get warm.
After lunch I find a sunny spot by a window and pile out my books and journals. I thumb through a Birds and Blooms magazine cutting pictures and words that strike my eye with scissors I stole from my three-year-old’s office. Then we gather again at the circle, for more silence and sharing around our reading for the month.
During afternoon retreat time I head outside with more coffee and sit briefly on a bench watching bees buzz happy among the clover. Then, still cold, I remember the black bed-liner in my husband’s old, red, pickup truck. The black bed draws the sun like a magnet and climbing in I’m greeted by warmth and the smell of gasoline. I unpack again, books and journal, in the bed of the truck, my back tucked into the corner. I run inside one more time briefly for my sunglasses and trade my cup of coffee for a plastic cup of water.
In the truck, I read a bit and try to write poems that wilt, listless on the page. I eat the perfect orange, slowly, beneath the blue sky of spring. In all of this I wonder, what am I doing here? I’m deliberately unproductive on these days, deliberately leaving behind the laptop, setting no firm expectation for the day. There’s prayer, yes, but most of the day feels decidedly unremarkable, strikingly unholy.
There are no angel choirs, no visions from heaven. I do spy a pileated woodpecker outside the whirled glass window at lunch, but if he’s meant to deliver a message from God, I fail on the receiving end. It isn’t until the closing of the day that I remember again a bit of reading, a quote from Thomas Merton, “. . . all our salvation begins on the level of common and natural and ordinary things.”
The word “all” is what gets me, sticks like taffy in my soul’s teeth.
I marvel at how unholy, how unremarkable these days apart seem most months and, on the whole, they’re filled with “common and natural and ordinary things.” This much I cannot deny – food and rest, silence and small chatter, an ugly blanket, the warm black bed of a pickup truck.
But Merton, sly fox, tips things up-side-down in one short sentence. These things, he whispers, these.
Carrots and coffee and sliced red pepper, quiet moments flipping pages soaked in sun, that orange, the smell of gasoline, the happy bees drinking life one blossom at a time.
These things, he whispers, these.
These things, he whispers, these.
It’s then, at the end of the day, that I accept again the invitation to surrender to God’s backward ways of transformation. God’s proclivity for infusing the material with divine.
The door is everywhere. All our salvation begins.
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I'm super excited to be joining with Andi Cumbo-Floyd and Shawn Smucker to organize a weekend writer's retreat this summer at God's Whisper Farm in the beautiful mountains of Virginia. Visit Andi's website for more info!
Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.
What if we chose to deliberately look for small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God?
That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days. You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder. Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.