On the first day of my retreat last week, my director suggested that I spend some time noticing what I notice.
For much of that day I walked the grounds of the retreat center and practiced being present to what was in front of me. Little things caught my attention—the way a reed swayed in the gentle breeze; small shoots of green amid the dried-up, brown grasses; how ice formed along the edges of the creek; snow clinging to tree branches at odd angles; and the way three ducks huddled on the water with their heads tucked in for warmth (or maybe that is how they sleep?).
The practice of noticing what I notice is a great way to slow down and focus. By the end of that first day, I had left my work and daily life behind me and had moved into a more meditative, prayerful space.
My friend Steve came to mind during one of my walks that first day. The previous week had marked the fourth anniversary of his death, and I welcomed this chance to spend time remembering what a blessing he was to me. Steve had been in a serious car/train crash when he was in college (he was in the car), and it was a miracle that he survived. He spent his life in deep appreciation that he was alive—and acute awareness that residual complications from the accident could claim his life at any time.
One gift of Steve’s accident was that he knew himself as totally dependent on God. His attitude toward life was open-handed—he was gentle with himself and others and did not take things too seriously.
I wondered which of my life experiences offers me that gift. What broken place within me reminds me of my total dependence on God? When had I been vulnerable and come out of the experience with a deeper appreciation for life?
One time I recall totally surrendering to God was after I left l’Arche. I had failed miserably as a l’Arche assistant, and my spirit was shattered. All my plans for spending the rest of my life in l’Arche were gone, and pride prevented me from returning to Philadelphia. My disappointment paralyzed me, and I could not see the way to rebuild my life.
In deep despair, I cried to my spiritual director, “I am falling apart!”
“No,” she said. “You are falling together.”
Her words jolted me. But I could see her point—I was already about as low as I could go; I had actually already fallen. My only hope was to give up the illusion that I was in control and surrender to God.
I recalled saying to God in resignation, “You hold all the cards!” It was both humbling and freeing.
As difficult as it was at the time, now it is a sweet memory that helped me connect with my friend Steve and God’s invitation to live more aware and open-handed, trusting in God.