The Master Is Here and He Is Waiting for You
Friends gather in the Smokey Mountains to follow the Spiritual Exercises of the Fraternity
For the Fraternity Exercises this year, a group of our friends coming from Indiana, Tennessee, Minnesota, and New Jersey gathered to spend a long weekend in a cabin together to follow the lessons. We decided to go to the Smoky Mountains, so it was no small feat for everyone to get there. There were nine adults and ten children aged seven and under. We were eager to embrace this year’s proposal to get out of our routine and go somewhere with a small group of members of the Fraternity to experience the Exercises. While we were looking forward to the weekend together, I think many of us also felt a bit of apprehension. There was plenty that could “go wrong”: not knowing how the kids would behave, if we would even have time to watch the lessons due to the kids, if we would have time to hike and enjoy the beauty of the mountains, if we would get along with each other (none of us had spent this much time together in close quarters with each other!), etc.
Most—if not all—of us arrived at the cabin with a sense of vulnerability or feeling “on display.” In close quarters, you become hyper-aware of all the flaws in the way you live your life with your own family, and it’s easy to feel self-conscious about being an annoyance to others. “We came knowing we would be on display, knowing it would be a risk,” said Andrew. “But it put me in the mindset of a pilgrimage. Once I took on that mindset, it struck me that ‘obedience is a silence that listens.’ The pilgrim starts listening to what might be in store for him at the end of his journey, even though he’s giving up all control to go there.”
Amazingly (and with a debt of gratitude to a faithful friend who came along to help occupy the kids during the lessons), we managed to be attentive to the Exercises. The desire to follow a proposal together also overcame the temptation to spend the weekend simply hanging out (or catching up on much needed sleep). And perhaps just as amazingly, we got to hike all three days of the trip, even though some of the hikes pushed us outside of our boundaries of comfort. While we missed the dedicated times for silence when we participated in the Exercises at a retreat center in years past, we learned that this silence can take different forms.
Julie entered the weekend not taking for granted that it would even happen. Recently she’s been forced to miss most CL events due to various illnesses in her family. So she entered with the understanding that whatever happens, there’s Something in it, and this is the life that Christ enters. “Even if all our conditions are demanding, he really does look at us like he does Mary and Martha—as individual people with whatever personalities we’ve been given. Martha is changed, but she’s still herself,” said Julie. “The difference in how we were together is that we could be ourselves and face each other, even communicating frustration in difficult moments.” In the end, Julie had time for silence while hiking ahead of us back to the car with her soon-to-be-awake and hungry baby. But this, she said, only happened because she was able to be attentive to what was being given, rather than worrying about what she wanted.
I noticed that although I was aware of feeling vulnerable or self-conscious, it remained in the back of my mind. Instead, I was mostly aware that I was loved. Whether it was someone helping me put my toddlers to bed, or joking about the ridiculous amount of food we brought with us, I felt free even with my limitations on full display. And this is unusual for me, to experience such freedom instead of insecurity, and herein lies a great sign.
We left filled with the certainty that the cabin was—and our friendship is—a place of belonging. Perhaps Francesco said it best: “It struck me how the lesson of the Exercises was something that was happening now, not 2,000 years ago. ‘The Master is waiting for you’—what a tender relationship! But whether it’s someone pushing you to go on a hike or cooking together, it's a reminder. And I need to be reminded somehow—this is why were are together. A friendship is exactly that: someone who reminds you constantly that the Master is there and He is waiting for you.”
Meghan, Nashville, TN