I had been looking forward to attending the Georgetown Five-Day Ignatian Spiritual Retreat for quite some time, and in the days leading up to class, a dozen or so of my college colleagues and I traveled up to the Franciscan Spiritual Center in Pennsylvania, turned off all our electronics, and left the “real” world behind us.
The “real” world, but not the real world: for there is something profound that happens when one disconnects from Facebook, email, texting, Twitter, phone calls, music, television, news, and in general technology for a time. There is something strangely comfortable about letting go of pre-semester anxieties, academic endeavors, extracurricular efforts, and future plans for a period. And there is something remarkably deep about sitting across from a friend at lunch and not being able to say a word to her. A retreat is about being authentically oneself, in the present, in the silence, listening: and one never knows what one might hear.
The retreat is a shortened form of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, with each day covering about one week’s worth of material of the “long” thirty day experience. The days had a fairly regular schedule: Mass, a meeting with a spiritual advisor, and a talk or two by a Jesuit in order to present the key “themes” of each day. But the vast majority of my time was spent freely: no structure, no assignments, just some thoughts to reflect upon in the long hours of silence of the day.
On campus, I live an incredibly busy life. I am often overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things I have to accomplish each day. The foundational aspects of the retreat – stillness, slowness, silence, reflection – are the sorts of things college culture and society-at-large has subtly overpowered in my daily life. Yet, the peace and tranquility of that experience – to not have to do or accomplish anything, but instead just to be, to exist – was startlingly wonderful. It is surprising how much more one notices God, others, and oneself when not distracted by the hustle and bustle of modern daily life.
Certainly, such an experience is not for the faint of heart – even I around day four began to feel anxious about my work back at Georgetown and the long period of silence. But the experience is worthwhile, even if such lessons come in different forms. Coming into this semester, I feel rejuvenated, closer to God, and, honestly, happy. Such gifts are abundant – but only if we take the time to stop and let them come to us.