I returned last night from a weekend retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, KY. I went there for a private, unstructured, silent retreat to seek God for guidance on some decisions I need to make. Without the distractions of daily life – even the simple ones of cooking and cleaning up – I would be forced to find the time alone with God that I seem to easily avoid when at home. God had other plans for me, which should not surprise me. The last retreat I went on that I remember, a long time ago, was supposed to help me straighten out my issues with men (I was divorced at the time). God drew me into a look, instead, at who I was, in relationship to my mother, my upbringing, and the generational habits of the women before us. It caused me, at least for a while, to change some of my habits with regard to my young daughter and to try to be more intentional about loving others, not out of duty, but as an outgrowth of my relationship with God. My empathy for my mother was so great that I wanted to call her and tell her that I loved her. To my great and lasting regret, I never did, second-guessing that impulse as I do so many others, and she soon thereafter lapsed into an unconscious state; even though I was with her physically before she died, I never had that opportunity to speak with her again.
My mother, a kindergarten teacher, used to play a game with her students, in Hebrew, when it was in Hebrew school, or in English, in her public school classes. When I was little, I used to play as well. The child chosen to be “It” would hide his head in her lap (can you conceive of something like that being allowed today?), and another child would be silently pointed at, to come up, touch (or poke!) the child who was “It,” and say, “Me Ahnee?” “Who am I?.” “It” would have to guess who that child was, despite attempts by the child to disguise his voice and the direction from which he came. Sensory memories are associated with this game for me: the feel of my mother’s skirt material, the smell of my mother (not in a negative sense, but as her essence), the cradling of my head in her lap.
The retreat drew my focus from the action-oriented “What do I need to do in the future?” to the introspective “Who am I?” This is my defining dichotomy: for astrology buffs, it is the sign of Pisces – two fish swimming in opposite directions; from my family heritage, it is the rebel and dreamer who was my father and the diligent and faithful worker who was my mother, both essential parts of me; for those who know their Bible, it is the story of the sisters Martha and Mary. I like to know where I am going. I like things mapped out, cleaned up, coming out even. But it is the essence of faith and trust in God to let go of that knowing and just follow. I reread an old journal and saw the same struggle over and over to learn to just sit with God and be in His presence. I have been spinning my wheels spiritually for a long time, and this weekend, I made yet another commitment to seek God with all my heart and to love Him with all my heart, soul, and strength. All else will fall into place.
Another conviction came to me in the area of my writing. I know I am a good writer, and I love to write; I think in terms of writing my thoughts down and how best to phrase them, what word pictures to use, what analogies to make my message clear. I have not been diligent about my writing for several reasons: one, the busyness that characterizes my life; two, the laziness that paradoxically also is part of who I am; three, the sense that what I have to say is not really important in the eternal scheme of things; and four, the fact that, though I am a good writer, I am not a great writer, and being a perfectionist, I hate to be judged for my imperfections. This topic would take up another whole blog, and maybe I will attempt it at another time. At any rate, one of the things I did at Gethsemani was to write down my thoughts. The conviction I had was that, no matter how insufficient or imperfect I think they are, they have a purpose not only for myself, to clarify my thinking, but for others who may glean something of worth from what I share of my own experience.
I wrote this at the end of January and forgot all about it. I started another blog entry yesterday and, in trying to locate that draft, found this one. All I will add at this point are two things that I have learned about myself as I am now. Those who knew me as a painfully shy child during the school year, or as a tomboy during summers in the mountains of NY, or as a diligent student, or as a rebel, or as any of the many other Emilys that I have been through my 66 years, may be surprised at the direction of my twilight years. However, I have realized that I want to use whatever is left of my life helping wherever I discern the greatest area of need; I cannot be satisfied in a life that does not involve actively doing and serving. At the same time, I need to provide for myself a place of solitude, a refuge, where I can come apart from the world and learn to just be. I believe that God has provided both for me during the coming year, and I look forward to coming closer to integrating all the parts of myself into a whole, to being able to answer the question “Who am I?” with the certainty and confidence that I am just who God intended me to be.