"You didn't give up chocolate for Lent, did you?" my spiritual director inquired, as he reached for his box of post-conversation treats. I assured him that I had done no such thing. "Good!" he said as he produced a box of marvelous chocolates. As I walked down the hall, chocolate and cookie in hand, I thought about the piece of chocolate cake that had been tempting me on my last visit here, and a piece from a retreat many years ago.
The summer after Tom died, I went back to my family in California twice, but didn't go on retreat. By the middle of fall semester, though, I was desperate to get out of my office and away. I told my department chair I wanted to take a few days off. My director at the time suggested a convent in New Jersey - whose name I can't recall any more, and called ahead to let them know what my situation was.
It was November and characteristically cold, dark and rainy. I was the only retreatant around, it must have been the week before Thanksgiving. I walked, sat in the library and read. I had lost a fair amount of weight, and didn't have much appetite - even for chocolate. The sister in charge had told me that they would leave dinner for me in the guest dining room. On the first night I appeared with my book just as she was vanishing around the corner. As I took the top of the tray to see what was for dinner, there was the largest, most amazing piece of chocolate cake I think I'd ever seen. I laughed aloud, was this my director's idea, or the Holy Spirit's? She always maintained the latter. Whether direct inspiration, or channeled through Pat, that was the moment I began to thaw again. Grace indeed.
Twenty years later and I'm at Wernersville to see my director, and spend a Lenten night in silence. There is a houseful of high school students on a retreat (a remarkably quiet group). Dinner was spare - rice and a salad. Dessert on the other hand... I had my eye on an incredible chocolate cake, the twin of the piece two decades in the past. I carried my dishes to the kitchen trolley, turned around only to find the last piece of cake leaving in the hands of a strapping high school kid. Penance in place of grace?
A couple of weeks later, I'm in Dallas for a meeting. The group went out to dinner, and the vegetarian options were limited - abstinence was morphing into fasting. That is, until dessert appeared. A huge piece of chocolate cake materialized. The Holy Spirit has an odd sense of humor!