Love, the driving force: a journey of discernment

Chronicling my formation with the Loretto Sisters (IBVM)


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Catching up

I need to catch up on my blog! Over a month has passed since my last entry. (This appears to be a habit…) So much has been going on that I intend to write about soon – I’m back into theology studies, involved in several exciting and rewarding ministries, and I’m starting to prepare for my first profession of vows with the IBVM.

But first things first. The discernment retreat! I haven’t shared about it yet.

To some extent the retreat is a bit hard to describe. It was very unlike the first 8-Day Ignatian retreat I made 4 years ago (when I was discerning to become a candidate with the IBVM) and nothing like the 30-Day Spiritual Exercises I made in the Philippines in 2016. It didn’t feel like work at all, it felt like a vacation.

At Loyola House, the grounds beckon.

I arrived at Loyola House at the end of August fully armed with what I thought I needed to make a good retreat – a stack of the journals I’d kept for the past three years, a bible, and a book on Mary Ward’s spirituality. To me, they seemed like the perfect resources for a discernment retreat. What a great decision I was sure to make if I consulted these books. Naturally, I spent the first day of my retreat taking full advantage of them – praying, reading, reflecting, and making notes to share with my retreat director. I was happy because I thought I was doing good work.

When I met with my retreat director the next day, however, we both realized that I was going about the retreat all wrong, despite my good intentions. I had embarked on the retreat prepared to wrestle with God, to work hard at making a decision about first vows. But I discovered that I had, in fact, already made the decision about vows (after all, I have been discerning for the past three years). Instead, God was inviting me to play. I was totally surprised. I was unsure whether it would be a real retreat if I didn’t follow a structured schedule of prayer. After much reassurance from my retreat director that I wouldn’t be goofing off, I spent my remaining retreat days marveling at God’s creation and delighting in each day’s new discovery.

The first thought that came to mind when I saw this bench was: ‘it’s Tardis blue!’ What a great place to sit and wait to meet The Doctor…or maybe God will turn up instead.

I walked a lot. Two or three hours a day, all around the property. One day I was captivated by texture. I stopped to caress, to really touch and feel the different textures and composition of the flowers, stones, tree trunks and bark, wild grasses, and leaves that I came across. Another day I was captivated by the sunlight and how it played off of the hills and valleys, the trees and fields. And on another day, I was drawn to hidden places – the light behind a grove of trees, a tiny flower nestled in amongst a tangle of grass, the sun peeking out from behind a cloud. I felt that God was beckoning me to explore hidden places within myself.

I also played in the arts and crafts room with the paint, pastels, and collage materials. I tapped into my childhood joy of creating with bright colours, without worrying whether the final products were any good. It was spontaneous and fun and made me wonder why I don’t play like this more often.

The entire retreat was suffused with a sense of peace and contentment and fun – a real joy at just being with God rather than being caught up in doing. It was more contemplative than active, and such a different experience than I had expected. My retreat was a confirmation of my vocation to religious life and a confirmation of my desire to become a member of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I can’t deny the sense of rightness and happiness I feel when I think about life as a Loretto Sister. The retreat also confirmed that God is always with me and I don’t have to constantly work at the relationship; God wants me to enjoy it.

And now here I am, a month later, and life is very busy again – filled with studies and prayer and meetings and friends and celebrations and more. All the bits and pieces of ordinary life that God makes so extraordinary. I feel God’s invitation to enjoy it all, the ordinary and the extraordinary, and to continue to live in gratitude and awe as I eagerly anticipate my first profession of vows.

 

 


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The flora and fauna of paradise

I’m still reflecting on the graces I received during the retreat and am taking time to process everything that happened but I wanted to share more photos of the retreat centre and its grounds. Here are my favourite photos of the beautiful plant and animal life that made the retreat centre such a special place.

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This was my usual view for my first prayer of the day. It was so wonderful to be outside.

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These flowers were fiery bright – I loved seeing them in the morning sun.

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These trees with aerial roots were amazing.

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I could see this tree out of my window. It became very special to me during the retreat.

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When we arrived it was so dry and the earth was cracked like this everywhere in the property. When we left it had begun to rain so the cracks were beginning to close up.

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My favourite place to pray in the late afternoon with the golden sun.

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The yellow version of this beautiful flower.

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I took this picture at the end of our retreat. You can see the grass is starting to turn green again.

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A seed pod beginning to open. It was the size of a corn cob!

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And here are the seeds embedded in a sort of cotton.

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Another favourite place to pray in the late afternoon.

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The sheep had free reign during the day to graze where they liked. They tended to follow a very particular route and timetable as they travelled the property. I usually saw this parade of sheep around 8:30am.

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Our beloved “mini lamb”, or “lambie”. Also known by his given name, “Cha-Cha”. As a little lamb with fleece as white as snow, he was spoiled by everyone. He was later adorned with a little cross pendant, like a little monk.

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A rear view of the two other lambs – they did not want to pose for a picture.

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The nocturnal amphibian.

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We couldn’t escape the roosters, even at the retreat centre – another noisy bunch.