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A (Coronavirus) Spiritual Retreat

Every so often, I wish I could have an experience like Saul (later to become St. Paul), on the road to Damascus. You may recall, Saul is knocked to the ground, asked by a Voice why he is persecuting Jesus and then is instructed to go see Ananias in Damascus where he’ll be told what to do. Oh, to have such a clear message! Instead what most of us usually get is more like Elijah’s experience (Kings 19) on Mount Horeb, where God skips all the powerful signs: violent winds, an earthquake and fire, and instead chooses to be present in a “tiny whispering sound”. Given my short attention span, I might have left the mountain after the big nature events and missed God completely. God’s typical low-key approach could also be why so many didn’t recognize Him when He showed up as a baby in Bethlehem some 500 years later. It turns out we don’t worship a flashy God, and so we need to pay attention and listen for His voice.

It can be hard to hear God’s voice in the midst of our busy, noisy, demanding lives. At times it can feel like you’re running with the bulls at Pamplona: going as fast as you can to not fall behind. However, there are some people (I don’t count myself among their number), who consciously take time in their lives, perhaps annually, to do a religious retreat. Retreats are typically a few days in duration and consist of time for silence, prayer and reflection: meant ideally (in my words) “to re-charge our spiritual batteries” and deepen our relationship with God. But while retreats may not be the answer for all of us, for a variety of reasons, maybe the current Coronavirus situation could provide a similar opportunity.

Due to the virus, much of the country, and indeed large parts of the world, now find ourselves in an unusual situation: Semi-confined to our homes for large swathes of time, perhaps still working or with even a blend of work, childcare, and looking after others. Basically, a reconfigured life but hopefully one that is at least a little less hurried. In this new rhythm of living, it might be worthwhile giving some thought to what we do with our time and especially any discretionary time that comes our way. And no, there’s no criticism of those taking this opportunity to binge watch Game of Thrones, Bar Rescue or Madmen. But we all know how easy it is to fritter away precious time.

Recently I recalled a quote from St. Teresa of Calcutta: “There are no great things, only small things done with great love”. So how might this apply to us in our current situation?

What St. Teresa and many holy people from different faiths came to know, is that God is always here in the present moment. So, to meet God we too must be in the present moment: not thinking about what we just did or will do next, but being truly present. That is, doing even the simplest chores with “great love”. Being 100% present to even the most mundane of tasks, can transform what might look like a humdrum activity into a prayer, and make us more aware of our oneness with God. If we can build some of this increased presence into our lives, maybe even supplement it with sitting in silence for 5 or 10 minutes at a time, we can start to insert “mini-Retreats” into our daily routines.

Fr. Richard Rohr says, “The only thing that separates us from God, is our thought that we are separate from God”. And so as we come together as a global community to deal with this virus, we need to do our best to quiet our minds and let go of those thoughts that separate us, so that we can hear that “tiny whispering sound”.

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