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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.

 

This morning’s dream invited me to enter Silence. I was alone. Soft light-warmth permeated every cell of my being: Tingly with joy all over, like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It seemed to last forever, until jolted back into my old body with its worsening symptoms, but not to fret. In memory, I can return to this exquisite revelation of what is surely to come. Someone loves me with exceeding gentleness—and everyone else, as well.

As I listened to the St. Louis Symphony on Classic Radio perform Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No 2 in C Minor, “Resurrection” (1894), I wondered at the brilliance and depth of the composer’s imagination, cut short by death at fifty years of age.

Of humble Jewish origins in Bohemia-Austria, Mahler always felt the outsider. Hard work was the antidote, first tested in Vienna’s Conservatory and University; then, conducting Italian opera at venues in Prague, Leipzig, Budapest, Hamburg, and New York’s Philharmonic, the proceeds of which supported his family. Studying German philosophers and metaphysicians also influenced his worldview and found a place in his musical compositions. Unlike others, Mahler had to finesse periods of solitude for composing, his lifelong passion.

Again, l listened to Mahler’s Second Symphony; its five movements opened me to worlds of angst/ecstasy, beyond my life experience. He seemed intimate with the notes of the human heart and reverenced them within the interplay of the massive orchestra, two soloists and chorus.

Nothing was left unexplored: existential questions, lost innocence, the dregs of despair, the disgust of existence, even the Titanic clash with God. Relief sounds in the Fourth Movement with the mezzo-soprano’s creedal statement, “I am from God. I want to return to God!” excerpted from the German poem, Primeval Light.

The Fifth Movement again opens with dark themes, from which the cry to God for mercy and forgiveness emerges. Glimmers of hope resound in the instruments. Bliss develops with the soloists and chorus singing Resurrection lyrics, composed by Friedrich Klopstock and Mahler; their simple words shimmer with the ineffable.

Indeed, Mahler’s imagination glimpsed the realm to which all are called; it impressed its ecstasy within each pore of our beings: “I shall die to find life.”

 

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