Reflections from St Scholastica: On Fear and Solitude

When describing my retreat experience several weeks ago at St Scholastica Retreat Center in this post, I described the unease that welled up within me in the emptiness of solitude as fear.  As I sit with the emotion that made itself known in those hours, and that hasn’t fully left since, I think perhaps it was less fear and closer to sorrow.  Or maybe the bowling ball in my stomach was sorrow and, rather than explore it, my response was fear.  Either way, God was so gracious to provide exactly the support I needed to work through part of it, but now, as I prepare to lead a retreat on Practicing Sabbath this weekend and look back over my notes from my own retreat, I found this resource that Sr Macrina shared with us, and realize that my experience of immense sorrow…and of something beautiful and mysterious underneath, is not uncommon…and He’s been there all along.

In his book, How then Shall We Live, Wayne Muller speaks of his first week-long silent meditation retreat and how during the retreat he discovered a deep sorrow and struggled with where it was coming from. As he became more silent he began to sense a unique presence deep within. These are the words he uses to describe the experience:

“Then it got quiet, quieter than ever. I began to sense something beneath the sorrow. I could feel a place inside, below all my names, my stories, my injuries, my sadness—a place that I lived in my breath. I did not know what to call it, but it had a voice, a way of speaking to me about what was true. Along with this voice came a presence, an indescribable sense of well-being that reminded me that whatever pain or sorrowI would be given, there was something inside strong enough to bear the weight of it. It would rise to meet whatever I was given. IT would teach me what to do.

All my life I have felt this presence, but at that moment I could feel its fundamental integrity. As I think back upon my life to the times when I have been lost, I realize that whenever I have ignored this voice I have quickly found myself in more confusion. There  is something inside me that has—for as long as I can remember, since I was very small—always guided me toward what was right and true. I also realized that when I am too busy, rushed or preoccupied, I rarely take the time to listen. It is this desperate unwillingness to be quiet enough to hear what I essentially know to be true—that has been the cause of much of my suffering in this life.”

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