Monday, January 2, 2012

January Retreat

The picturesque angels of Christmas are ready to leave.

Real angels only appear in real lives. In other words, they appear in lives that are not ready for angels or expecting the need of them. They appear in messy lives. They appear in lives that are about to change. They appear in lives that seem unable to change.

Do they ever appear in the Travel section of The New York Times?

Last night I was ready to say yes. The Sunday edition lay open on the kitchen table before me. At first I could not believe my eyes: "A Quick Shot of Peace, on a Budget" by Susan Gregory Thomas featured photographs of a retreat house that I have visited.

The real angel appeared in the columns of print threading the pictures. A real life appeared in those columns of narrative. A real voice named ways in which the author's life had hurt and bewildered and frightened her.

If her life could use an angel, I wondered, certainly mine could as well? My life with all its striving for the appearance of sage serenity, of emotional balance and elegant expression? Have you read this blog before? Have you ever wondered about the stories that keep safely out of the postings?

It is a customary month for me to wonder about angels. January four years ago I was planning a retreat, a weekend away at a monastery north of Boston.

January forty years ago I was getting ready for another kind of retreat, thirty days of silence and reflection in consideration of life as a priest.

I went back this morning to a retreat house about which I have written before. In a cemetery on the grounds, I searched out the grave of the spiritual director who had listened to me over the years. I stood under the grey sky and asked him again what a heart was for, what this heart was for, and whose approval it could be hoping for.

An angel like him sometimes made it possible to believe that I was perfectly all right.

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