Reflections on Retreat and Montserrat revisisted

I spent the past weekend at the Jesuit retreat house, Manresa, in Convent, Louisiana.  It was an amazing experience and was my first exposure to formally guided contemplative thinking.  The retreat is based upon the Spiritual Exercises, written by St. Ignatius Loyola.  It seemed serendipitous that Ignatius held a close place for the Benedictine monastery at Montserrat, Spain.  In my visit to Montserrat several years ago (before I'd even heard of Ignatius), I'd felt connected enough to the Spanish mountain to bring a piece of it home (something I've not done before or since).  I cannot speak enough for the atmosphere of reflection and spiritual salving which occured for me at Manresa.  My best friend was also able to secure a spot at the last minute and it was wonderful to spend time with him on the ride there and back.

Thoreau wrote, "Look at the teamster on the highway, wending to market by day or night; does any divinity stir within him?  ... The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.  What is called resignation is confirmed desperation."  Any man or woman who has turned to, or is drawn to the contemplative life, will connect deeply with that observation. 

In his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius wrote, "On the occasion of every act ask thyself, How is this with respect to me?  Shall I repent of it?  A little time and I am dead, and all is gone, What more do I seek, if what I am doing now is the work of an intelligent being, and a social being, and one who is under the same law with God."

There was a time when I existed in a painful and quiet desperation. I'd become convinced, even in the midst of a spiritual hell, that (as was attempted by Marcus Aurelius) I could achieve tranquility with the effective well ordering of my mind. 

But in the quiet hours of this past weekend, it became exceedingly clear to me that the things of the spirit vastly overshadow the mind's ability to otherwise quiet itself under the auspices of ordering, discipline, or other mechanisms.  While I have also grown very aware of the role of inventory in my life (advocated by Aurelius and also advocated as part of Ignatius' exercises), I am fully convinced that without a deep and abiding divine discourse, there will be no relief for that quiet desperation which nags at many.

Thoreau also wrote, "A stereotyped but unconscious despair is [often] concealed under what are called the games and amusements of mankind."  This may perhaps explain some of the perplexed looks one gets when you tell people you are headed to hang out with the Jesuits for a long weekend.  Whether or not Thoreau or Aurelius knew the solution to the problems they so adeptly identified may only be known by them, as it is known (or concealed) by me - depending on what day you might ask.

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