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September’s scarlet crisped tips of maple leaves overhanging the asphalt road on our way to East Gloucester, Massachusetts, and the retreat house, a sacred place of cleansing silence. “And we didn’t get too lost this time,” said my buddy Pat, her pink cowgirl hat aslant upon her forehead, “not like other years.” It was 2014.

For miles, bracing wind currents from the nearby ocean and cawing sea gulls heightened our anticipation. It had always been the same: for thirty years we had left landlocked St. Louis, only to relish the Atlantic’s watery moods, at times like a fickle lover.

No matter that accommodations were spartan, the fixtures rusty, the cream walls smudged from retreatants’ luggage, the all-weather carpet stained, the acoustical tiles discolored, the mattresses lumpy, the casement windows corroded.

Of more importance were spirited retreat guides seasoned by life’s hilarity and tears, the retreatants’ prayer-weaving-mantle protecting scary descents into in our psyches, long hours of walking shady paths carved out from the surrounding forest, the boulder-lined coast affording multiple sits atop blankets, clam shells splattered upon sands with each tide, honey bees flitting around clumps of Queen Anne’s lace and goldenrod pushing through the sands. And chef-prepared meals energized everyone with New England cuisine.

Central to this experience, however, were long hours spent in meditation, relishing its fruit, and recording significant messages: always about conversion of heart. Within Love’s dream we were washed, until the next directed retreat.

At times, I feel like I’m participating in the directed retreat of my life, one that is moving me toward the contemplation for obtaining divine Love, the last meditation found in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I’ll know it when I get there.

As an aside, 2017 saw the opening of the new retreatants’ wing at Eastern Point Retreat House, staffed by Jesuits from the New England Province.

 

“What is real?”—A critical question posed to those seeking authenticity.

This is worked out in The Velveteen Rabbit (1922) by the American-British author Margery Williams. What appears to be the story of a little boy’s relationship with his stuffed rabbit becomes something else. Her toy animals speak.

“What is real?” asks the Velveteen Rabbit, a stocking stuffer ignored by the little boy that Christmas morning in lieu of the more modern wind-up toys in the nursery.

The Skin Horse, the favorite of the boy’s uncle, responds, “When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

After the holidays, the grandmother slips the Velveteen Rabbit into the arms of the little boy, asleep in his bed. The next morning, they become inseparable.

Months of cuddling the stuffed rabbit evidence the boy’s growing affection for his pet: bent and missing whiskers, glass eye hanging by a thread, worn patches of velveteen on the haunches, discolored torn ear. Then comes the change.

It comes with the boy’s scarlet fever, and with the single tear from the Velveteen Rabbit’s good eye coursing down its cheek: an arousal of love for his little friend. It also brings on the Nursery Magic Fairy who honors his fresh spirit, kisses him on the nose, then leads him to other rabbits in the forest where he becomes one among them.

This story of transformation appealed to me. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, my body continues wearing down, feelings surface through daily bogs, and grief’s tears water my psyche: all expressions of deepening love for Creator God who has brought me this far in life. I, too, must become real and submit to the stripping/loving in our relationship. To this ongoing process, I bring heartfelt trust.

 

It was 11:15 P.M.

The words, The Story, prodded me from REM sleep, despite exhaustion from the day’s challenges clinging to every pore of my old body. I was to write, now, not in tomorrow’s daylight.

After I swallowed lemon water from my Sippy-cup, I tossed aside the covers with my foot, lunged to a sitting position on the side of my bed, toppled onto my lap, and in silent pleas complained. I was to write, repeated the Source. Then, I flipped on the lamp, grabbed my wheeled walker, made it to my word processor, and waited for words to come.

The butterscotch sun bathed planet Earth revolving on its axis. Its people of every color and ethnic background cycled through each day, from sunup to sundown. The pattern was always the same: waking, washing, eating, working, exercising, preparing for sleep; disease, discord, and violence marred the land. Such had been the human family’s experience for eons.

Yet, The Story would be told, in shimmering tones like a summer evening’s wind chimes carried upon gentle breezes, from house to house, from hi-rise to hi-rise. No one would not hear it. It began, almost imperceptibly at first, then in gentle tones until the unique voice of each each clapper sweetened psyches: smiles gentled clinched jaws, breath inflated taxed lungs, hands opened to offer help, feet came to the assistance of the needy.

 Change was occurring. Laughter and storytelling quickened imaginations, resolved tensions, cheered the dissolute. Gone were the locks on hearts and front doors. The day’s hardships and surprises swelled those gathered around supper tables. Everyone anticipated more life lessons culled in dreams.

Lest anyone forget the sound of the wind chimes, everyone strung their own and hung them from porches, or wherever. Braided harmonies told The Story, over and over again—The land rollicked with Peace.

I’ve heard The Story. It’s about God’s dream for the world.

 

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