Thursday, June 3, 2010

At Mt. St. Michael

During my eight-day silent retreat, I had the privilege of visiting Mount St. Michael, the place in Spokane, WA where many of the Jesuits in the Oregon province have been buried. Since my work in the infirmary last year, three Jesuits have passed away whose graves I was able to visit. Another one will be buried there tomorrow--Fr. Alex Mcdonald.

Hayden Lake this year was unusually wet. We had only two full days of sun--the first day we arrived and the final day of the retreat. My visit to the Mount came on an especially rainy Memorial day. Curiously, though, a window of sun came through right at the time of my visit. Shortly after leaving the Mount, it proceeded to rain quite heavily again. I took it as a sign that God was blessing the visit.

My visit to the Mount was an immensely consoling experience. I recently tried to construct a poem about it, but I don't find myself to be much of a poet. I think I'll just convey a sense of what I experienced.

While I was praying, I got a keen sense that what I was experiencing was something quite profound--an experience that defies the simple perception of things. I wasn't simply seeing the graves of the men or noticing all of the white stones in front of me. Of course I was seeing that. But I was seeing so much more as well.

A cemetery usually reminds one of death. I had the opposite experience. I paradoxically experienced a lot of hope and life in my visit. I saw in my memory the smile of a man who took delight in sharing his love for tennis. I experienced around me the beauty of the earth, the warmth of the sun, and the song of young birds. I meditated on the lives of these men who each had their own flaws and weaknesses, yet they heard the call of God and lived as best they could to offer their lives in service. I was in the company of Jesuits who sought to ground their gaze upon Christ--the One who looks out over the world with great love and compassion and the One whom they sought to imitate as best as they could. I had a felt sense that I was on Holy Ground and had a transcendent experience of joining in song with them the "Salve Regina." The Mount overlooks the city of Spokane, and I experienced these men looking out over the world with a desire to bring that light and life of Christ out to those who thirst.

Call me crazy, but here, I did not find the dead. I found the living who have risen in Christ and inspired me in my own vocation. Words do not do justice to what I experienced (which is true for most of my silent retreat where God abundantly showered me with grace and consolation). I believe such an experience would not have been possible for me without the richness of my prayer during my silent retreat in which many of the Gospel scenes came to life to me in a way I had not experienced before. It was a retreat laden with images rich in affect, and that carried over into my experience at the Mount.

I encountered a stone with a poem written by John Masterson. I thought I would end with his words.

While others find this place
deserted, it will be
ever pulsing with life
for me.

For over simple stones
On this wind caressed height
A host of vibrant men
stand bright.

Their eyes and words more clear
Than any I now know
In all the crowded town

I see the living here,
Though spirits may have fled,
And moving numbly there,
the dead.

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