Celebrate What’s Right With the World!
I am on a badly needed, week-long, directed silent retreat, which began last Friday, June 20. It is at a place called “Our Lady of Calvary Retreat House,” in Farmington, CT. Our Lady of Calvary is an incredible retreat house, one which used to belong to the Bissell family, the makers of carpet sweepers. Then in 1958 the Sisters of the Cross and Passion of Jesus purchased it for a retreat house.
There are gorgeous grounds for walking and praying. My spiritual director had been inviting me to this place for several years, and this would be the first time my schedule had allowed me to go. She had asked if I would serve as a spiritual director for some of the women who were coming on this retreat. She said that, because it was a week-long, silent retreat, and I as a spiritual director would only need to meet with my directees for an hour a day per directee, that I would be able to kind of sneak in a bit of a retreat for myself during my down time. Well, let me tell you,I desperately needed a retreat.
My father died on December 30, and I know in my heart that I have not even yet begun to grieve the loss of this amazing man in my life. On a practical level, since his death, my ministry has been such that nine times out of ten, I have not been able to take my two days off each week. Most weeks it has been one day off at the most, which, when you work about 65 hours a week, is not enough. Then three weeks ago my secretary did not show up for work. She is always so responsible about letting me know when she will be late or absent, that I began to seriously worry about her. Sure enough, she had been taken to the emergency room by ambulance, in great pain, which turned out to be bacterial pneumonia. She was in the hospital for almost a week, and then ordered by her doctor to rest at home. So for the past three weeks, I have had no secretary. Thanks be to God for a volunteer who filled in a few hours each week. During her absence we had some tragic deaths. The first tragedy was a beautiful 22 year old girl who died in a plane crash, whose family was connected to our church. Her funeral was the same day our women’s group gave me a birthday party, and also the same day I had a wedding rehearsal on Block Island. Talk about moving from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other! We pastors are human too, and the loss of someone, but especially someone so young, so tragically, is something we grieve as well.
Finally, the day the retreat was to begin, I finished all my administrative work at the church, then got into my car to drive the two-hour drive to Farmington, CT. Of course I had a stack of telephone messages to return from my Honda CRV “office.” First message: “Pastor I am hungry and have no food. Can you help me?” Second message: “Same thing.” Third message, “Pastor I will be evicted if I do not pay my rent. Can you help?” Last of all, a call about another tragic death, this time of a 41 year-old young man, his mother’s only son, in his sleep, of a heart attack. I returned my calls. Then for the rest of the drive, I prayed. I almost never turn my radio on when I am in my car, except for the news on NPR. My car is one of my places of prayer. Well, I guess I really needed to pray because rather than taking the two hours it should have, with traffic, construction, and a horrible accident up ahead of me, it ended up taking me three and a half hours! Here I am, on my way to a place to help me relieve all of the stress and the overwhelming burdens of my life and ministry, and I can’t even get there!
My first time as a spiritual director at this retreat house, and I show up forty-five minutes late. I am the only non-Catholic person here, and, amidst all of the quiet, peaceful nuns, I show up like my renegade forebear, Martin Luther, interrupting the peace and quiet, with my frazzled, discombobulated hunt for a bathroom for my bursting bladder, then scrounging around for food they had already started to put away. How to make a good impression.
To “kick off” the retreat, to set the tone, the Sisters showed a twenty minute film, which I had never heard of: “Celebrate What’s Right in the World!” It is a film made by a photographer, named Dewitt Jones. (See Link in Sidebar.) For the past thirty years, Dewitt Jones has served as a photographer for National Geographic Magazine. Ironically, the word “God” is never mentioned in this film, but for me, God was revealed in every minute of it! DeWitt Jones says at the outset of the film, that National Geographic sent him off on every single assignment, to places around the world, with the charge to photograph the things and the people that should be celebrated in each particular place! Talk about a dream job! I would love that job. But wait a minute, that is what this “Life as Spiritual Adventure” Blog is kind of trying to do!
How ironic or how providential that the retreat began with this film, because when I arrived, I was feeling so burdened and overwhelmed with so much of the hard stuff of this life. For me, frazzled and exhausted and depleted, this film was a healing balm for my soul. In fact, in just twenty minutes, I felt reborn.
It is visually gorgeous, funny, poignant, inspirational, and for me it was also transformational. Dewitt emphasized that every day, we should be open to the unexpected. Sometimes he would be sent to photograph a specific event, but would meet a person who intrigued or fascinated him. He would follow his gut, which for me is the Holy Spirit. He would interview and photograph the event he’d been sent to shoot, and then he would interview and photograph the person who intrigued him.
Most important of all, Dewitt says that every day, no matter what we do, we should do it with eyes and ears and hearts and minds that can see something, in the midst of life’s struggles, and sorrows, and suffering, every day we can also see something, someone worth celebrating. That’s what DeWitt does with his photography. That’s what I try to do in my ministry and in this blog. That’s what I invite you to do, no matter how overwhelmed or sad, frustrated or lost you might feel. Look around. It is always there.
It’s the woman who volunteered to help in the church office. It’s the Sister who scurried to get me a plate of food. It’s the love of the family who lost the 22 year old. It’s my friend standing beside me to sing a song at her funeral. It’s the concern and faithful presence of the husband for his wife, whose only son just died. It’s the four beautiful children at our church who just celebrated their First Communion.
As much heartache as there is in this world of ours, so also there is beauty, and goodness, and love. Look around. What is it you see? Let’s celebrate what’s right with this world.
Pastor Linda Forsberg, Copyright June 24, 2014