Elizabeth Marshall is an Emmaus Fellow serving at St. Chrysostom's parish in Quincy. Here is the sermon she preached on Wednesday, November 28th.
This past weekend, I was blessed with the opportunity to be sent on a contemplative prayer retreat in New Hampshire. On Friday afternoon when I was packing my bag to go, I wasn’t feeling too blessed about it though. I was feeling slightly resentful about the fact that I was being highly encouraged to go on a retreat when I had spent the majority of the three weeks before retreating in my bed and getting over mono. I felt that the time would be much better spent working my way through my long to-do list of items that I needed to catch up on in order to relieve some of the anxiety of feeling behind.
As soon as I stepped out of the car at Hallelujah Farm (a beautiful retreat center in Chesterfield, NH), my negative attitude and anxiousness melted away. The smell of the firewood that heated the house combined with the brisk autumn air brought a deep sense of calm and ease.
The retreat was a silent one and in the multiple sessions for contemplative prayer, we were instructed to deeply listen. To deeply listen to what was coming up for us in each present moment. To deeply listen to where God was meeting us right now. During one of Saturday’s meditations, a dear friend kept coming to the front of my mind and as I deeply listened. And I realized that a conflict with this person was weighing on my heart and was something that I needed to work through.
First thing on Sunday morning, I entered the space of meditation very distracted. I had just woken up and was thirsty for some water, but if I stood up to get it, I might end up distracting all of the others meditating around me. I repeatedly tried to bring my mind back into the place of deep contemplation, but the only thing that I kept ringing through my mind was that I was thirsty. And then I experienced what I would describe as a mystical spiritual awakening. My physical and spiritual being aligned as I heard the words repeated in my head:
As the Gospel of John talked through today, the way of the world can be full of hatred. And it’s very easy to get wrapped in that hatred, in the ways that we are hard on ourselves and others, in the ways that we might be much quicker to talk about the things in which we are dissatisfied with instead of things that bless us. In this day and age, Self- worth often comes from all of the things we accomplish (our never ending to-do lists, our work, our tasks and how we choose to spend our time). And then when we can’t finish those things that apparently build our worth and give us meaning, we beat ourselves up.
It is certainly counter-cultural to take a break from our busy lives to stop and deeply listen. While retreats are wonderful, it’s also important to build that space into our daily rhythm. When we come to church, while we’re travelling places, before we fall asleep at night. As I heard in my own meditation and we heard today in the lessons and the examples of Saints Simon and Jude, that deep thirst and commitment to listening can transform our lens of the world into a one of deep love.