I went on a retreat a few weeks back with my fellow seminarians where we spent almost two days in seclusion on the property of some Cistercian nuns in Southern Massachusetts. It was a great experience for me, to a great extent because it was intentional space set apart from the world around me, space in which I could think and reflect before diving into a new semester. It was meant to provide peace and comfort, community and grace to those of us who came.
And it did. For in many ways, now that I am in the thick of classes, and feeling the beginnings of stress again, that retreat reminds me that it is always possible to set aside time for oneself. One of the most meaningful things that we did while we were there, actually, was to practice silence. Which can be lonely, but in a room full of people, it felt so full and spiritual. I was also touched by the rituals in which we partook. At the end of the retreat, in particular, we were asked to each write something to ourselves, something that we wished to take with us when we left the retreat center. Then, we placed our wishes for ourselves in a bowl and each of us picked a new wish to take with ourselves out of the bowl. My new message said the following:
“Be at peace with the struggles and joys of the journey– you are on the right path.”
I cannot tell you how often I have found myself returning to that small piece of lined yellow paper in the past few weeks. For this semester has not been easy. I had begun my spring thinking that I had addressed the major problems and concerns of my last semester, confident that this was the time to figure them out, to explore more intentionally what was meaningful to me and to be unabashedly myself. Then I watched in disbelief as my safety net began to crumble. My character was attacked by a fellow student. Then my roommate began to have problems. I found myself being attacked by those who are in pain themselves, people whom I did not ever try or intend to hurt, but people who nonetheless feel hurt by me. I began to wonder– is this where God wants me? Did I take a wrong turn? Why all of this suffering, God?
And still I wonder. I am worried out of my mind for my roommate, who becomes more paranoid by the day and whom I feel helpless to aid. The issues that surround that such that I don’t want to go into it on a blog, but I can say that she is very hurt and that many of the things that I believe in and participate in, both in school and in faith, are painful for her.
How does one protect oneself when the one who is attacking her does it not out of anger but rather of pain? Knowing my roommate, she is a kind person who is suffering. I feel as though I am targeted by her because of what I represent, but at the same time I know that what I represent and how i relate to the world makes her feel unsafe and attacked. Who is to blame then? How does one heal? What can we do? These are all questions that I have no answers to. I can only hope there is an answer somewhere, and trust in the little yellow sheet and the soul that formed it, that there is hope in this struggle, that there is peace, and that this is the journey I was meant to take.