I went on silent retreat two weeks ago and the silence had not left me. We were encouraged to journal our thoughts and emotions. A dearest friend said she had never written so much in her entire life. I, on the other hand, could not put down my thoughts on paper.
It was a weekend perfect for a silent retreat. We held it at a retreat house surrounded by a lush garden, at the Mother of Life in Novaliches, which was ran by the Notre Dame de Vie Institute. Birds chirped to wake us up in the morning. The silence was conducive to our recollection. Brothers and sisters cooperated with the silence and concentrated on their own retreat, despite running into each other at every corner of the venue. Sr. Susay Valdez, rc, led us into deep prayer and meditation. The music from the Cenacle sisters and the Jesuit Music Ministry provided the soothing background to our individual struggles with our silence. A French priest said Mass for us and heard our confessions.
Despite the beauty of the surroundings, the writer in me refused to journal. I did not want to form the words to shape the pain that I faced that weekend. There was a certain finality to seeing things in writing and part of me could not accept the reality that I was in. So I dialogued with the Lord but wrote sparingly. He understood what I was going through more than anybody else, anyway. I was not entirely obedient to our retreat master’s encouragement, but I had learned that it would not kill me not to be a pleaser once in a while, as long as I was being true to myself and honest before my God.
Life handed me a curve ball three weeks ago and I am still reeling from the shock. Ally McBeal was right on the mark once again when I chanced upon a few minutes of its re-run on cable TV yesterday. It was the episode where Josh Groban was her client. I wasn’t able to catch the entire plot as I wasn’t able to watch the episode during its original run years ago, but this was what I gathered from the scene I tuned in to. Ally was talking to Josh’s father who was a preacher or a minister at their church, but who was suffering from a huge loss and was adamantly holding on to his own depression, to the dismay of his son. I might be sued if I got the plot all wrong but this served my purposes considering what I was going through while watching it.
Ally said to the preacher, in my own paraphrase:
“What surprises me is that you must have seen this happen several times in your congregation. A member of your church must have suffered like this and you helped them believe that they would recover from it. Why can’t you believe that it could happen to you, that things would get better?”
The preacher’s sad face mirrored the way I felt. He probably believed and had actually seen how people stood up from their own depression and moved on with their lives. But his pain was unique. His pain was too much. His limited human viewpoint was not enough to spark the desire to move on. He wanted to give up. I presume that he probably lost his beloved wife.
I found myself with those telltale signs of depression for a couple of weeks. I had no interest in anything – be it going to work, serving our community, eating my lunch, or updating my blog. All I wanted to do was to stay in bed and sleep all day. I questioned the things I believed in and doubted myself. I knew that God was watching me, inviting me to run to Him, and giving me His unconditional love. But I grew comfortable wrapped up in my own misery that I even turned my back on the truth as written in Scripture. If I were my pastoral leader I could easily point out the silver lining in this dark cloud, and indeed several people tried to reach out and help me see the light of God’s promise. Struggling with anger, unforgiveness, guilt and frustration that stubbornly clung on to me especially on mornings, I could not bring myself to smile and to go about my life as I had been used to.
I was shaken at the center of my faith and it was all I could do not to lose sight of God’s power. I sought out the Sacrament of Reconciliation repeatedly and obeyed the vow of silence that I was asked to commit to. I went against my own nature, for I used to need to talk about my feelings before I could process them, because I did not want to aggravate the situation. I saw my own limitations once more and found myself at the mercy of my weaknesses. People were praying for me but they could not fathom what exactly caused me to be so traumatized, except probably for a few who knew me very well.
I do not look at life in neat little folders. The colors are not clearly separated for they blend at some point and even mix together to form hues that express my passion. I have not been wired to be calm and collected amidst challenges, much as I hate to admit it. I was born passionate and in order to teach me to be less emotional about life, a strict gag order must be maintained. A vow of silence must be enforced. And by God’s grace, the silence could become the fertile soil upon which His Word could be cultivated anew inside me. In being still and single-minded before the Lord, I could then hear Him more clearly. Although I could neither see nor understand what He was up to in allowing this to happen to me, I learned what real faith was all about.
This week’s focus on the passion of Jesus is an opportunity for me to join my pain into The Pain, as Henri Nouwen put it. He wrote that the only way for us to move out of our own pain is to fix our eyes on the ultimate Pain that Jesus Himself went through, in order to show Salvation three days later. Yes amidst my little faith and huge doubt, I want to know Jesus Christ and the power of His rising. In Him my pain becomes manageable. In His rising comes hope for my own rising as well. As St. Paul drew strength from the Lord in His weakness, so shall I. There may be neither glory nor beauty as I hoped and imagined, but the promise of something more always lifts me up and allows me to soar.
I end with this text message I received:
“Eagles love the storm. When clouds gather, the eagles get excited. The eagle uses the storm winds to lift it higher. Once it finds the wing of the storm, the eagle uses the raging storm to lift him above the clouds. This gives the eagle an opportunity to glide and rest its wings. Use the storm to rise to greater heights.”