A friend summed up 2020 the other day for me: “Harry, the only good news regarding 2020 is that it is almost over.” Very few people have seen anything like it: A pandemic that has killed more than 1.5 million people around the world, including 280,000 Americans; 25 million Americans unemployed or underemployed, significant social unrest, and a U.S. presidential election that is best described as surreal. In normal times, the story of 2020 would be hard to sell as fiction, let alone nonfiction!
Fortunately for me, December 3rd through the 6th is the time for my silent retreat at the Demontreville Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, where I have the opportunity to try to put everything into perspective. I drove from Chicago to Lake Elmo on December 3rd with a good friend and have had three full days of silence to reflect on what is truly most important in my life:
- What are my values?
- What is my purpose?
- What really matters?
- What is God calling me to do with my life?
I truly believe it is important for each of us, regardless of our religious or spiritual beliefs (or even if someone has none at all) to take some quiet time in which to ask these questions.
I use these three days every year to: (1) truly self reflect in the silence (2) read several books that friends have recommended during the year and (3) carefully listen to the lectures given by the Jesuit retreat leader:
- It is hard to explain the value of the silence. Separating myself from mobile phones, computers, and the internet for several days is truly a blessing. A pamphlet in my room at the retreat house summarizes the importance of silence: “We forget almost daily that silence is actually the ground of our being, and that speech is merely the figure. Organized sound is music. Disorganized sound is noise. When we noisify the environment to the degree that we have in technological society, we literally lose the ground upon which the scaffolding of authentic humanness is raised.”
- At this retreat I had the opportunity to read several books. As usual, I started with one of my favorites, “Mere Christianity,” by C.S. Lewis. I learn something new every time I read it. A good friend recommended “The Language of God,” by Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project. Collins explains how faith in God and faith in science can coexist within a person and be harmonious. Another colleague recommended “Simply Jesus,” by N.T. Wright, an English New Testament scholar currently at the University of Oxford. Wright provides a perspective on “who Christ was, what He did, and why He matters.”
- Our Jesuit retreat leader this year was Father Vince Strand, who is currently working on his PhD in theology at the University of Notre Dame. Father Strand did a wonderful job of combining theology and practical day to day lessons of how I personally can become a better Christian, a better person, a better spouse, and a better parent.
Finally, I took the time to focus on The Beatitudes. Christ summarized the Beatitudes on the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
While Christ presented the Beatitudes to Christians, I believe that they apply to people of all religions and all faiths. In times like we are experiencing in 2020, it is worth for all of us to take the time to understand what our purpose on this earth really is.