Gleanings from My Annual Retreat

I want to share with you a few thoughts from my recent retreat, Nov. 27-Dec. 4. First, the setting. I made my retreat in one of the small houses on our campus. I asked a Jesuit friend, Father Gary in Detroit, if he could meet with me (via zoom) for some “holy conversations.” I couldn’t have asked for a better retreat director. Gary has known me for almost 30 years, since we ministered together at the Jesuit novitiate in Detroit in the 1990’s.

I shared four areas of my life that I wanted to explore during the retreat. I was open to other areas where the Spirit might lead me. We began by formulating together this question for my prayer and reflection: “When I go to God’s doorstep, who comes to the door?” In other words, WHO is God for me? I resonated with the journalist Michael Gerson who said: For Christians, God is not merely a Force, but a Face—Jesus. I spent time with Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal son and his personal encounters with the hemorrhaging woman, with Zacchaeus the tax collector, and with the thief who was crucified beside him. If I am endeavoring to surrender my whole self into God’s hands, to WHOM am I surrendering?

Who is God to me? (Photo by Matej Novosad)

I spent some time reflecting on my own physical diminishment. I recently completed my 78th orbit around the sun. It is understandable that I am experiencing the subtle but very real signs of diminishment—such as less energy and more arthritis. Can I surrender my WHOLE self to God—including my diminishment and my own death? The answer boils down to TRUSTING in the God who loves me more than I can ever imagine.

One resolution from my retreat is this: I want to hang out with the mystics more. (I wrote about the mystics on this blog : “Love Poems from God,” Dec. 17, 2018). The mystics have a REAL loving relationship with God, with Jesus. It’s a relationship I envy. Their intimacy with God helps them to be totally honest with God, completely trusting, often playful, and sometimes defiant against the conventional religious thinking of their day. Here are two brief examples from Love Poems from God by Daniel Ladinsky. For me, these short excerpts reflect the mystics’ familiarity with God and their playfulness:

From Rabia, 8th Century female Islamic saint:

It helps, putting my hand on a pot, on a broom, in a wash pail.

I tried painting, but it was easier to fly slicing potatoes.

From Meister Eckhart, 14th Century Christian monk:

If God would let go of my hand, I would weep so loudly,

I would petition with all my might, I would cause so much trouble

that I bet God would come to his senses and never do that again.

God will never let go of my hand… (Photo by Tatiana Syrikova)

I also meditated on Jesus’ parable of the treasure in the field. I noted: I must buy the WHOLE field. Not just the part where the obvious treasure is. No, the whole kit and caboodle! So too, I must embrace the WHOLE of my life—including those parts that look unpromising, are difficult to bear, that confuse or frighten me.

Two more tidbits I want to hang onto from retreat. God plants seeds in our hearts during a retreat. I must trust that God will continue to water those seeds through my daily prayer, through scripture, through the beauty and mystery of creation, through poetry and song, through my ministry, and (most of all) through all the people God sends into my life (including my “Sunflower Seeds” readers!!!) And finally, Gary reminded me: “The closer I am to God, the more I become my better self.”

I must buy the whole field of my life… (Photo by Pixabay)

For reflection: Did anything stand out for you in these gleanings from my Retreat?

I sometimes use good old fashioned love songs when I pray to God. Here’s a song from my high school years that I sometimes sang to God even as a teenager: “Moon River” by Andy Williams. My decision to enter the Sisters of Notre Dame was something like getting into a boat (or on a raft) on this river, not knowing where the river would take me, but trusting that God was with me. This song still speaks to me today. I see my whole earthly life as a journey with God. Perhaps God is my Moon River… my Huckleberry Friend… To God I can say, “Wherever you’re going, I’m going your way”—all the way to the rainbow’s end…

I invite you to write a comment below.


  1. Donnamarie Risse on December 11, 2022 at 11:37 am

    I love your postings because they so frequently open new windows of understanding in my own life. Thank you.

  2. Maureen Macisco on December 11, 2022 at 8:18 pm

    I am hanging on to Fr Gary’s words, “The closer I am to God, the more I become my better self.” I want to work on that. I very much enjoyed this post, thank you

  3. Annmarie Ragukonis on December 13, 2022 at 5:29 am

    I really needed to hear about buying the “WHOLE field. Not just the part where the obvious treasure is.” I’m at a fork in my life where this has become difficult, and your thoughts while on retreat are an encouragement. Thank you 😊

  4. Marilyn on December 14, 2022 at 4:16 pm

    I think for me God is a Loving Presence. No specific qualities, maybe all.
    Thank you for the inspiration each week.
    God bless us all

  5. Marilyn Morgan on December 18, 2022 at 11:59 am

    Your writing always touches my heart. I’m so glad that you shared humor in a relationship with God. Humor encourages me to be me. Then God holding my hand, not just walking with me but He presses my hand to encourage or holds me back to slow me down (think before crossing that road). And TRUSTING through diminishment. I’m facing back surgery. I’m old. I’m tired.

  6. Barbara A Ebner on December 20, 2022 at 6:50 pm

    I appreciate the quote from Meister Eckart. Thank you

  7. Clarita Pomaloy on December 23, 2022 at 9:20 am

    I use the booklet Give Us This Day for over a year now. That was where I encountered your reflections. I love your literary style. Normal not sanctimonious. So I finally opened your blog and I love it all the more. I just turned 79 3 days ago and the physical diminishment is very real to me now. I love that God will not let go of my hand. I love that He will be with me always even to the rainbows end. Thank you.

  8. Kevin Meehan on December 23, 2022 at 2:03 pm

    I am so fortunate to have found this site (sight) through Give Us This Day.

    While each connemt resonates with me – 62 years and just retired, I enjoy reflecting on the face of God responding when I knock. Usually not what I am expecting. Profound love. Patience. I people around me or speaking though my time spent in adoration.

    I had decided a few years back to get to know the Doctors of the church though their writings. I will take an occasional detour for a mystic. Playful and familiar may help mix thing up.

    I look forward to you posts past and future. May God continue to bless you and work through you.

  9. Susan Wigg on December 31, 2022 at 9:59 am

    God holding my hand, I love the image. I have two small grandchildren 3 and 6 years old. I love when we hold hands in a parking lot or crossing a street or just because. I feel like the strong one even though I’m almost 70, protecting them from harm. I can imagine God holding my hand. Sometimes when I can’t fall asleep or if I’m am troubled I ask God to hold my hand. It gives me comfort and peace.
    So much to think about in your blog this week. Thank you

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