If I were a space capsule, my re-entry from last weekend’s silent retreat at New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur into the everyday would have included some layers being burned off in the atmosphere. This might have had something to do with my decision to give up protecting my heart as my Lenten practice.
On the last morning of the retreat, I was trying to be present as I ate breakfast, looking out at the fog that hid everything beyond my little garden, and worrying about this whole open heart thing. I looked down at the empty sugar packet I’d used for my tea and suddenly there was holy presence of sugar packet.
This was not an art deco sugar wrapper. This was your standard white with scrolly blue letters proclaiming, “Sugar, sugar, sugar.” It was a little rumpled and, in that moment, exactly as it ought to be, as if the essence of this particular sugar packet were shining through. This awareness lasted for a little while—holy presence of bowl, holy presence of plate. Then it faded, and we drove home.
I was determined to “keep faith with my newly awakened heart,” as Jim Finley says. Then I went to work Tuesday morning.
At my parish’s Advent retreat last year, Father Jim Clarke said that when you ask God for something, God rubs his/her hands together and says, “OK, let’s get down to this,” and shows you exactly how much you need to work on what you’ve requested. It was a normal Tuesday—I was late, work was busy, some things went according to plan, many did not. But by the end of the day, I was angry and impatient and had made snide comments about people I didn’t think were doing their job well, people who I had been practicing holding in my heart for months.
There are so many ways I protect my heart. Dwelling on others’ shortcomings and wrapping my own identity up in how well I do my job are only two. Worrying that people will like me and having imaginary conversations to convince people to see things my way also come to mind.
I don’t know how this is going to work. I never do at the beginning of Lent. But I still have the sugar packet and thirty-eight days—clearly enough time to complete a lifelong practice. Pray for me.