Sunday, August 28, 2011

My Second Ignatian Retreat

I was poking around some old computer files and discovered the old note below. It was a brief reverie after my second Ignatian retreat, which Helmut and I made in 2001.

For the record, I'm making my next retreat in October.


Today was my second day back to work after my retreat last week in Connecticut. Within 15 minutes of turning on my computer on Monday, three people (including my boss) had pulled me aside to have a word about "what happened" in my absence.

It’s not uncommon in the frantic life of start-up Internet companies for business decisions to be made in light of...shall we say aggressive?...project time-lines that no sane business person would ever contemplate, to say nothing of implement. An example of such is running a million dollar project whose most up-to-date documentation is an email trail.

So it came to pass that while I was serenely enjoying the New England Autumn change of colors, the folks back in my office were trying to find out who did and said what when, knowing that something important had been written down by yours truly somewhere at some time but not knowing where to find it.

Such is life in an Internet shop: it is a tale, told by a digitized idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing so much as the struggle toward the next paycheck.

The retreat was a welcome respite.

Fifteen fellows gathered at the retreat house in Ridgefield, CT for five days of quiet contemplation. The days were structured: we rose early, went to Mass, attended conferences throughout the mornings and afternoons that were punctuated by meals and free periods during which we read, prayed, napped, and wandered the 14 acres of turning hardwoods before retiring by 10:00 p.m.

Don’t be fooled, praying and meditating for a whole day is hard work: imagine trying to stay focused on a meditation for even a quarter of an hour without letting your mind wander. How long can most of us spend working out the details of the Nativity without an intruding thought nosing its way into our contemplation? And what a contemplation: Was the temperature cold enough for breath to turn frosty? Was the donkey in the stable on the left, or was the ox? How long before the shepherds arrived? What did the choir of singing angels sound like? With all the amazing things happening, did anyone even notice the prickly straw in the manger or the smell of the stable? What joy is this being born into my life? Such thoughts are not the normal stuff of the computerized office: pulling your mind out of that routine to think for a spell on something holy and quiet and wonderful takes real effort. After a day of that, I slept well at night; a sleeping peace for men of goodwill indeed. And after a week, not even the airport security guards armed with M-16s alarmed me. And tackling a first-thing-Monday-morning workplace surprises was a walk in the park.

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