There are four things I would not consider venturing on an extended retreat without:
a good (but not too good) SF or mystery novel
The post-it notes are put to different uses in nearly every retreat. They've ended up decorating a wall-to-wall window, a visual panorama of the passages suggested from Scripture each day by my director. I used them on the long retreat to make notes while looking over my prayer of the previous day, which I would then stick onto the front of my prayer journal — though I never once looked at them in any of my conversations with my director. Another retreat found me putting a blank one on the front of my journal to jot one or two lines to jog my memory about prayer suggestions from my director. Whatever I end up using them for, I don't go on retreat without them! I'd sooner leave my pillow behind.
And I rarely eschew bringing a pillow. My faithful travel pillow came to Japan with me, and gets tucked into my tote for car rides of even a few hours duration. I joke (or maybe it isn't a joke) that I'll have reached a new level of detachment when I no longer need my travel pillow, even for one night away. It is with a bit of pride, though, that I announce that I forgot said pillow in the car the last time I spent a night on retreat and DID NOT change out of my PJs at 10 pm, go out to the car and get it.
The novel became an essential after a rather tightly strung retreat, where midway through my director marched me down to the retreat house library, pulled a mystery novel off the shelf and said, "you need some down time, read this!" (Yes, Ignatian directors can be directive.)
Chocolate. Do I need to say anything more? I don't travel anywhere without chocolate. Several colleagues know that I can be counted on to have a stash of dark, dark chocolate in my desk for those dark, dark moments that strike now and again — or to celebrate with.
Before I left for my retreat in Big Sur, my sister-in-law, The Reverend's Wife, reminded me that there is nowhere around there to get even essentials, so to be sure I had what I needed before I left. She was probably thinking about toothpaste and shampoo, but I was thinking about chocolate! I duly made sure I was well stocked. The first evening came and went, and the chocolate stayed in the drawer. And the second, and the third. By day four, I was starting to wonder what was up. I had no taste for chocolate. Zero. Zip. I could open the drawer, look at the lovely dark chocolate orange truffles nestled in their fancy papers and think, "nope, doesn't appeal!"
The only time I've had no appetite for chocolate for an extended period of time has been when I was pregnant (no, this is not an roundabout announcement of any miraculous news). I began to wonder what else I might be pregnant with, if not a sibling for Crash and The Boy. There was a lovely image in the poem Visitation by Harry Hagan, OSB included for the feast of Mary's visitation to Elizabeth in Give Us This Day of the restlessness of God. What would it feel like to have God — literally — restless within you?
About a month ago when I was up at the Jesuit Center to see Patient Spiritual Director and take a deep start-of-the-summer breath of God, I took my morning cup of tea out to the east cloister garden. It's my favorite place to sit and pray outdoors there, regardless of season, regardless of the time of day. This morning there were bits of nest material scattered in the center of the walk. The shards of shell and yolk, veritable signs of dashed hopes, tore my heart out. A bird had made her nest in one of the light fixtures, and the heavy winds of the previous night had knocked it down.
I looked up, to see a finch perched on the edge of the fixture. She was puffed up and panting, despite the warmth of the morning. I watched, worried, what was wrong? Suddenly, a small round globe appeared. She'd laid another egg. Perched on the edge of catastrophe, here was a tiny sliver of hope. She sat for a moment, then flew off, leaving behind this precious bit.
On retreat, as I sat on my precious sliver of time, wind blown and panting as I climbed the hills, I wondered how God was restless in me. What might be hatching in my life? How willing am I to give birth to something fragile and precariously perched, to take on something risky and wild?
Photo is from California last year. A small egg found while sweeping out the lath house to use as an ad hoc hermitage.
Aside: What was I hatching that was risky and wild 16 years ago? The Boy was restless within me, and at 11:04 am 16 years ago today, decided it was time to be born!