Over spring break, I was given the gift of attending the Jesuits of the U.S. Central and Southern Province’s second annual women’s retreat. This retreat was formed in response to the desire put forth in General Congregation 34 for Jesuits to listen to the experiences of women and discover where women fit in the overall mission and vision of the Society. Twenty women, including me, and ten Jesuits were invited to journey together for four days in the beautiful St. Louis countryside. We prayed together, we spent time in silence, and, most of all, we engaged in rich dialogue with one another, sharing our joys and sorrows, successes and challenges.
Truth be told, a retreat like this was something a bit outside my comfort zone. I don’t often think of my identity as a woman over my identity as anything else. I don’t often take into account what might be happening in my life due to that piece of who I am. Instead, more often than not, I think of myself simply as Gretchen.
The retreat gave me a great opportunity to reflect on what being a woman means about how I show up in the world. It also gave me a great opportunity to spend some time with other women and recognize their unique offerings, strength, and importance in God’s work. It gave me space to wrestle with and lament the limitations that piece of my identity places on my passion to show up and fully utilize my gifts in the Church. It had me asking with great joy and anticipation as we wrapped up on the fourth day: “So what now, God?”
I left the retreat on a “retreat high.” I was peaceful and at the same time full of passion and excitement as I clung to the many moments of God coming close over a short few days. I imagined what it must have felt like to be atop a mountain with Christ, like John, James, and Peter once were, and considered that the peace I entered the airport with to fly home was perhaps as close as I could get to that.
But then, reality came crashing in. My flight home had a six-hour delay due to terrible weather. A couple hours into the delay, babies were crying, people were grumbling, and ticket counters were bustling with frantic passengers asking urgent questions as the storms raged on outside. Instead of the gentle walk down the mountain I was hoping for, I found myself tumbling head first, trying and failing to find my feet.
Re-entry after a retreat or another profound moment of transformation with the Lord is often difficult. The real world tends to crash in and easily makes us think that perhaps we were just imagining God coming close.
How do we hold on to these moments of tangible encounter with God? How do we hold on to the beauty and the passion we were just infused with so we can do the things God so clearly called us to do?
Once we finally got back on the plane to take off into the still-raging storms ahead, I remembered a short prayer I read right before I left on retreat:
Inhale: For our God
Exhale: Is closer than air.
Over and over again as the plane bumped its way home, I breathed this reminder that God didn’t stay up on the mountain. I was the one who needed to climb up to remind myself what God’s presence felt like. We all need to do that sometimes and then hold on tight to the knowledge that God remains close before and ever after, as long as we just keep on breathing.