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What could be more ‘spiritual’ than a retreat at a convent? Yet, on my retreat, I felt anything but spiritual.
I began the three days – as usual – watching my distracted, ‘daily mind’ settle in to the silence. My mother’s constant plea was for me, as a child, to “simmer down.” Like her, I waited patiently for the childish ‘boiling’ of my thoughts to relax into a gentle simmer. Like the child I once was, I have a capacity for deep, quiet reflection once that excess energy is spent.
But on this retreat, I could not seem to find the way into my own ‘interior castle,’ or awaken from the dull sleep of time into the Presence of God. Minutes that, normally, would flow past my island of contemplation unnoticed, dragged me along slowly like a towed barge. At the end of Day Two, hoping to kindle a spark of interior light and life, I sought out what Gerard Manley Hopkins has called “the freshness deep down things”. How often that newness of life has sparkled through the beauties of Creation to quicken my own inner flame!
On this occasion, though, as my eyes saw, my heart seemed blind to the glory beyond objects. So, I offered the experience itself, of being heart-blind, to God as a prayer. This poem emerged and with it, a sense of utter dependence on Him for the sensitivity to beauty I usually take for granted.
My duty is to sing the praise
of all things beautiful,
or to choose one whose loveliness
to laud, thus honoring all.
But no fire leaps to catch my gaze
from objects round about.
Flat, chill, and angular this place –
its living flame gone out.
Smoke hints that recently the hearth
with answering heat did burn.
The candle snuffed within my heart,
beauty to ash has turned.
I look in vain for dappled things,
for vessels of God’s glory –
colors unlit by joy.
I notice objects that should shine
with singing poetry,
but face, fruit, vase, steeple and vine
Mind cannot breathe into itself
the holy, quickening sigh.
Help Thou, O Lord, my unbelief,
Spirit, rekindle sight.
All the poems are now in one volume, and I’d love for you to have a copy! Click on the cover to buy it, and click here for the recordings of all the poems.