Thursday, March 31, 2005

Retreat weekend

Last weekend Maria and I led a retreat for the people involved in our "We Want to See Jesus" discipleship/evangelization program that's been meeting Wednesday nights in preparation for mission trips this summer to Eastern Ukraine. We didn't really have to do very much for it because we had someone to be the main facilitator. It was an absolutely wonderful weekend.

We went to this Basilian convent (Sisters of St. Basil the Great) about a halfhour outside of Lviv. They have a brand new building and it's just gorgeous. All nice wood floors and lots of light and fresh water all the time. Honestly, I hadn't been in that modern and nicely done a place yet in Ukraine. It felt like a monastery or retreat center at home. And the weather was SO nice and there were fields and woods to go walking in (but everything was super muddy). It was so good to be out in the country for a few days! It was on a high area and you could see quite far across the landscape. The land really resembled southwestern Wisconsin there, rolling hills, farms, distant houses.

We had this fellow named Roman talk about the Jesus Prayer. He's Ukrainian, but he spent 7 years in a Trappist monastery in Norway after recovering from alcohol and drug addiction and now he is back in Ukraine doing rehab work with drug and alcohol addicts, including some prison work. He has a fascinating life. He struck me as definitely unique among the people I've met here. For one thing, he talked much more about western psychology than any other Ukrainian I've met. On the way to the monastery he and I talked a little. (He has pretty good English -- he told me that my English is very good since he can understand me :). After he had told me about his life a little, he asked me what I thought about my vocation. I had told him about my experience with the Trappistines in Iowa and how I liked the Cistercian spirituality. I said I had come here to grow and to learn who I really am and that I was still open to either marriage or consecrated life with a religious community. He said that I had another option. He said that since he had returned from Norway he had wanted to start a group of people (he didn't specify more than that) who would live monastic values and monastic spirituality but in the world. He said he'd been trying to do it for years now and it was so hard to do it alone. For awhile after this I kept thinking of Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day and I was wondering if somehow he would end up being a Peter Maurin to me and somehow I would end up starting this community with him.
But that kind of freaked me out, so I let it be.

The Jesus Prayer is simply this: "Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." It's the fruit of the desert fathers - monks who chose to seek God in the caves and reaches of the desert in the early Church. They soon found that though they had left the world, sin, darkness, and temptation remained a struggle for them, stemming from thoughts and inclinations from within. I learned about this prayer a year ago and prayed it a lot for awhile then and it was very helpful to me, especially in dealing with anxiety. But then I kind of stopped it. It's supposed to be that you pray it so much that it sinks into your subconscious and you're really praying it all the time. (There's this book called The Way of the Pilgrim about this Russian guy who sets out to find someone to tell him how to "pray without ceasing," as St. Paul instructs us (Thessalonians?) and his answer is the Jesus Prayer.

Roman asked whether we thought we are stronger than evil. It was a really provocative discussion (especially b/c I guess a lot of the retreatants were accustomed to just listening and not having to talk on a retreat - it was also a little avant garde even that Roman wasn't a priest). Later that day he talked about how experiences we have as children (traumas, or lack of love, etc.) can lead to behaviors in us as adults, but that praying the Jesus Prayer can bring healing. And the basic thing was that, like when you're dealing with substance abuse, the first thing you have to do is realize that you are powerless against it, that we need Christ to help us, to save us, we can't accomplish it ourselves. The Prayer is first of all calling on the power of the Holy Name of Jesus. Secondly, it's a proclamation of the Gospel ("son of God..."), and last is the basic idea contained in all prayers: have mercy on me, a sinner. Christ never denied mercy to a humble heart. It's a hard thing to really say, with your whole heart, that you need God, that you need need need Him, that you can't do this yourself. It doesn't mean you're bad, it doesn't mean you should be ashamed. It's honesty. Humility is honesty. And it opens you to receive so much more of God.

I'd been praying that God would help me to give to him the parts of me that I kept in hiding, the parts that maybe weren't so holy or pretty, and I felt like this retreat was an answer to that prayer, that now I have a plan, something to do - pray the Jesus Prayer again - and it makes me feel hopeful. I've been praying it a lot since returning and I think I'm already noticing a difference. I'm really thankful for this prayer.

We're actually going to have another retreat in a few weeks, because so many people weren't' able to come on this one (but it was good, really, because 15 people was a good size). It will be cool to get to go out there again, and maybe talk to Roman again. It'll be the weekend of the 16th-17th of April, or whatever that weekend is. On Monday the 18th, Maria and I are supposed to travel to Prague in the Czech Republic, for a conference hosted by this group that is working on the re-evangelization of Europe. (see the conference website: We'll be gone for about a week. It should be really cool. I was in Prague briefly in high school, but I don't remember much about it. The conference will be in English, and it's primarily a Roman Catholic thing so hopefully I'll get to go to Mass in English again :).


Blogger bee2007 said...

Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

10:33 PM  

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