Eternal Life on a Silent Retreat

Here’s some journaling from March 2008 while at the Abbey of New Clairvaux:

After breakfast I decided to go to the guest center and ask someone to contact Father Paul [my grandfather-like spiritual director and friend of many years]. No one was there for me to tell, but as I was browsing their books, Father Paul walked in. We greeted each other with a hug and talked for a few minutes. He told me that he had thought of a book he wanted me to have, that his sister and brother-in-law were visiting him from out of state, and that we could meet up for spiritual direction around lunchtime. He also told me that he will be having surgery Monday morning to remove a tumor. I asked him, “Will you be ok?” He looked scared. I wanted to hear him say something reassuring, like he always does, but his voice was more realistic, “I guess we’ll have to see.”

Later on, after terce, I found him leaving the kitchen and we decided to go from there to the chapel, where we generally meet for spiritual direction. We talked about love, our living and eternal love for others: brothers, sisters, Jesus, family, saints. We concluded that God’s mission for our life does not end just because our body is dead in the ground. Our love, forgiveness, and virtue continue on; and there is a reciprocal relationship between those who are being perfected through prayers, love, and forgiveness. Between Jesus and his followers, the living and dead. We decided this strengthens our love both now and beyond. Our life is not obliterated by death but given a new name and transformed. We haven’t stopped caring just because we’ve died, and our intercession, care, and protection lives on in God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–held together and connected with love.

After two and a half hours of talking, it was time to use the bathroom and call it a day. At some point, however, the stark reality of Father Paul actually dying–during surgery or elsewhere–hit me like oncoming traffic. I have had older mentor types/spiritual directors pass on before (like one of my professors from Chico State), though not anyone with the kind of immediacy and depth that Father Paul has. This brought to mind a dream I had a few nights ago. I remember walking through the mundane routines of my day (like writing my Analytical Review [AR], going to classes, working with kids, being at the office, etc.), but I couldn’t keep myself from crying–bitter and painful tears–because everywhere I went I was reminded of a person who had recently died (not sure who it might have been). Now I wonder what to make of everything. Even though I don’t put much stock in a dream, I’m worried for Father Paul and sad.

For the rest of the evening I prayed with the monks at vespers and then worked on my AR before reading a book. And, finally, at 11pm I fell quickly into peaceful sleep and soul rest. Here’s one of my favorite lines from the chants today:

“Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.”