Our approximately 48-hour visit to the “top of the mountain” neared its end. I knew we soon would be leaving, with only mid-day prayer and a lunch of Vietnamese food ahead on the schedule. I wanted to savor that prayer experience, to let it satisfy my spiritual taste buds in a way no food ever could.
Perhaps, I thought, I had a bit of Peter in me: Lord, it is good for us to be here.
Friends Larry, Jim and I had prayed the Psalms with the Trappist monks all weekend. In silence, we read our books, ate our meals and washed our dishes. We attended Mass and participated in five of the seven daily prayers of the Divine Office in the chapel at Assumption Abbey near Ava, Mo. We spent free time in the chapel or our rooms or common areas or outdoors — all in silent reflection.
Any talking by the three of us was limited to a walk we took to a nearby creek, our nightly discussion about the book we were reading and the sacrament of Reconciliation.
I didn’t miss the TV or radio, the CD player or my cell phone or access to the Internet at all. I didn’t miss McDonald’s or Facebook or my job. I didn’t miss knowing the scores of the Cardinals ballgames or hearing about what news was happening in the world outside the Ozark Mountains.
Eventually, I knew, I would miss my wife and children, my grandsons and friends, maybe my recliner and my bed, but I didn’t feel that yet. Not when, on that mountaintop of a retreat, I could immerse myself in conversation about my faith, meeting God during deep interior prayer, the sacraments, the prayers with the monks … and silence. Oh, my, the pleasure of God’s gift of silence.
I found myself enveloped in a peace that can be so elusive in the “real world,” a joy that comes from allowing captivity by the Holy Spirit. Yet just as my friends and I finally had felt completely comfortable in the quiet rhythm of the monks, it was time to leave. Part of me already mourned that.
Near the end of that Sunday mid-day prayer, one of the monks read this passage from the Gospel of Mark: “Then they came to a place named Gethsemane, and He said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took with Him Peter, James, and John, and began to be troubled and distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch.'”
“Remain here.” The words came to me like a plea by Jesus. It was His desire, His instruction, His advice.
I knew he was advising the same for me and my friends. “Remain on retreat. Stay with the monks. Don’t stop praying. Maintain the joy, the silence.”
Alas, I thought, we can’t fulfill your request, Jesus. Larry and his wife planned to leave on vacation. Jim had to catch a morning flight for work. I was expecting my entire family at the house for Sunday night dinner, then needed to be at my desk at work no later than 9 a.m. Monday.
How, Lord? How do I remain here?
I wanted to remain at peace, focused on my faith relationship and contemplative prayer, to continue eating slowly with small bites and small portions, to not have to turn on the TV at home or radio in the car, to do everything in a spirit of prayer, to take the joy of the absolution gained in confession and continue to see the world in a fresh way.
It’s one of the frustrating and yet challenging aspects of the calling to Christianity: Walking in a state of grace while living in a secular world. A fallen world. A troubled, confusing world.
So we descend the mountain and remember that Jesus lived in a world just as fallen, troubled and confusing. It’s not really about remaining on the retreat.
It’s about remaining in the presence of Christ.