Bringing Me Low
November 14, 2011 | My Jottings
I don’t remember precisely when the realization came to me that God was bringing me low, but I have known this without a doubt for a few years now. If someone were to ask, “Julie, what is God doing in your life?” I think I would answer, “He’s bringing me low.” Not everyone would understand what I mean by that, and to be honest, I’m still learning myself. But I know it’s true, and good, and my very recent stay at Pacem in Terris solidified this in my heart and soul more than ever before.
While Pacem is a Catholic retreat center, about 70% of the visitors are not Catholic, so my Protestant self felt very welcome and at home there. I’ve been to Pacem three times now, and this visit was the most meaningful so far. Here is a post about last year’s visit, with lots of pictures.
This time I think it will take more than one blog post to do justice to what I felt the Lord spoke to my heart while I was there, and as I feel able, I will share soon about that here on the blog, if anyone is interested. 🙂
For now, I’ll share some pictures — you can click to enlarge them if you like. Here’s the hermitage I stayed in recently:
The little prayer hermitages at Pacem in Terris are named for saints, and mine was St. Mary Magdalene.
Mary Magdalene had apparently been a sinful woman before she met Jesus, opening the door in her life to the control of seven demons. When she met Christ, He set her free from all that evil, and the scriptures say she then followed Him. She also was the first one to see the resurrected Christ, the one who ran back to tell the discouraged disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” I, too, would like to share her testimony. I would like to be able to say that Jesus set me free from all chains that bound me, that I followed Him closely out of pure love and gratitude, and that I somehow conveyed to anyone who would listen how wondrous are His ways, and that He was worth serving. I pray, Lord, that you help me cooperate with you in this….
Here’s the inside of my hermitage, the morning light streaming through the windows. There are sixteen of these little cabins at Pacem in Terris. They don’t have electricity or running water, but the Pacem staff provides jugs of fresh water for each hermit, and the gas wall heater keeps it cozy warm inside. Each time I’ve visited Pacem I’ve gone in the late fall. The trees in the oak and birch forest were almost bare and the nights were cold, but that only made me want to hunker down even more.
Below, the door to the left goes out onto the screened porch, and the door on the right is the front door. The cupboard is thoughtfully filled with anything that might be needed for a hermit’s stay: candles, matches, coffee and tea, cream and sugar, a flashlight and extra batteries, a rain poncho and a walking stick, extra linens and towels, a first aid and sewing kit, paper and pencils, utensils and paper plates, cups and glasses, cleaners and more.
This time I asked my dear friend Carey if she would consider going to Pacem with me. It was her first time there, and she’ll be sharing about it on her blog soon, I think. We drove the two hours’ south together and then briefly visited each others’ hermitages when we were first settling in. But since the retreats at Pacem are silent retreats, we didn’t see each other during the day at all. At night we walked the dark trails up to the main house, where the staff prepares dinner for anyone who asks. Conversation is welcome during that time.
Below is a photo of my faithful friend of 27 years. Carey’s cabin was called St. Teresa of Avila and was on the other side of the forest from mine.
When the Pacem staff drives you out to your hermitage, they leave you with a basket of victuals that seems simple on first glance, but becomes more delectable as the time passes. With no phone, no noise, no people plucking at your sleeve, nothing to do but sit in the silence and answer His invitation to “be still, and know that I am God,” soon things begin to change. New lenses get put in front of your eyes, and time slows down. A simple round loaf of whole wheat bread with a slice of cheddar cheese is a feast. A juicy Honeycrisp apple and a chunk of a muffin with dates and toasted walnuts on top is mouthwatering. Cold, clean water tastes like the nectar of Heaven.
The first day can be hard, but it’s worth it. It takes time to get accustomed to the silence. (Many people surprise themselves by sleeping several hours on their first day of silent retreat…the staff remind people that sleep is also a gift from God and hermits shouldn’t feel guilty about sleeping when they first get settled in.) The second day, for me, was amazing, and there was hardly enough time in the day to absorb all that it seemed the Lord wanted to speak to my heart.
In times past I’ve seen some leaping deer and a fox in the forest, but this time I saw only birds, and about ninety-three squirrels. Carey saw two deer in her part of the woods, and the last night we were there she heard a pack of coyotes howling in the distance.
I watched a female Downy Woodpecker on this tree outside my window:
After my first night there, I got up at dawn and sat in the rocking chair, looking out on the barren woods toward the small lake in the distance. I sipped Jasmine tea and stayed in my plaid flannel nightgown and Acorn slippers as long as I wanted. I read my Bible slowly and asked the Holy Spirit to help me hear His voice. I prayed. I listened.
There’s a gas burner in each hermitage, and making tea several times a day was so comforting and seemed like such a privilege.
In spite of photographic evidence to the contrary, this is a photo of a well-rested, comfortable, calm and hopeful woman:
At the end of the day, it gets dark in our part of the country very early now. By 5:00 p.m. it’s “peach black” out, as my granddaughter Vivienne used to say. I tried to read by candle light but it wasn’t bright enough. I didn’t feel like reading by flashlight. So by 7:00 p.m. I was ready for bed each night. I pulled the covers up to my neck and gave thanks for the warm, clean hermitage, the friends and family praying for me at home, and for a heavenly Father whose storehouses of mercy and grace are so huge they’re incomparable (see Ephesians 2:6-8). I thanked God for not giving up on me after all my wandering, and tepid living.
This printed prayer was sitting on the little table next to the rocking chair in my hermitage, and I prayed it out loud and with my whole heart:
Almighty and eternal God,
Creator of the heavens and the earth
and Creator of me,
I praise your holy presence.
Thank you for calling me to come and
be alone with you in the silence of this hermitage,
that I might know your love and hear your word.
Have mercy on me, O God, for I have sinned.
I repent and ask you to forgive me for all the ways
I have failed to love you, my neighbor, and myself.
Through the redeeming love and sacrifice
of Jesus, your Son, hear my prayer
and open my heart to receive your gift
of healing and forgiveness.
Help me to offer love and forgiveness
to all those who have sinned against me.
By the power of your Holy Spirit,
lead me to your truth and set me free
from all the snares of the evil one.
Let me know your will and grant me the
courage and strength to embrace it everyday.
Lord, fill me with the joy of your presence,
as I live in gratitude for the wonders of your love.
Grant me the grace to love and serve you in this life–
and to live with you forever in heaven.
All glory be to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
now and forever.
Now that you’ve read it, you might like to go back and pray it, saying it out loud or in your heart, asking for God to do the impossible in you, just as I ask for Him to do the impossible in me.
That’s one of the reasons I went again to Pacem in Terris.
To ask God to do the impossible.
He’s the only one who can.
Do you have something in your life that’s impossible to overcome, impossible to fix, impossible to deal with? Don’t we all? Here’s what Jesus says about our impossibilities:
“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.'”
Even if your impossible is the most impossible on earth, it’s not too impossible for God.
Don’t give up. God wants to prove Himself mighty in your life. I would never lie to you about this. You don’t have to go on a silent retreat to connect with Him. Right now, sitting at your computer, reading from your iPhone or iPad, you could whisper….
“Jesus, please help me.”