In those days of youth, I traveled to Duluth in June with my grandparents and was photographed with a sister and brother looking at a train, a post card still sold in their tourist attractions. In those days of youth there were fireflies in the summer. I recall the jars used as cages, punctured with airholes. The fireflies have since departed Minnesota, for the most part, where I live.

Time. And the waters. The waters for the most part keep on flowing by in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. The waters used by all living things. The only way to journey in this world is to give yourself over to it. To the journey, that is.

I grew up in an age when immersion described the Catholic way of life. Mark Massa is a Jesuit who wrote a piece in Company, discussing passing on the faith. In his piece, he quoted Alex de Tocqueville’s famous observation of religion here in his journey in the 19th Century, with the United States the most religious nation of the industrialized world. What he observed here and not in Europe was that religions were in competition, surviving as a voluntary activity, where the economic survival was from the religious groups and not the government. Tocqueville wrote about the two different kinds of religious groups here. The culture model offered either a religious identity of total immersion or the evangelical outreach variety.

Total immersion defines my upbringing. I lived on a Catholic street, if the religion of the neighbors defined the neighborhood. I went to parochial school where, as I vividly recall, tuition was $35 to $60 a year over 8 years. The generation after me never has had this total immersion into a culture that I experienced. Not across the Catholic board.

My identity came from the immersion into a culture in what Mark Massa, S.J., described through a unique language and music that defined us. This Catholic culture met individual needs for social location, family values, and group interaction. This was the world of the 1950s and 1960s for Catholics and Jews. For the most part, Protestants were without a total immersion, or the ones on my block any how, when we moved to the Scandanavian enclave one mile away.

Last year I wrote down a quote on retreat from a priest about how few Filipinos know how to float. Father Foley had observed the fear of immersing the head, and a resistance to immersion. I had the same fear, about swimming. He said that once you learn how to float, you never forget to relax in the presence of water.

The fireflies have since departed Minnesota for the most part. Yet I see them once a year, in a weekend that I spend on retreat. In Lake Elmo, on Lake DeMontreville, mostly the retreat master watches in awe as God enters into their lives in very specific and individual ways. As one priest said, it was as though God had been waiting for so long to have this time with us. The retreatants. I don’t do much talking there, when individually most meet with the priest to discuss their relationships with God. The priest was there to help mediate.

This was a place of welcome and rest. Over time you become aware of perspective. DeMontreville was a space cared for by 3 Jesuits, where the Trappists farmed next door. Over time, you discover that you were absent a view, a perspective, and a focal point within, something much bigger than yourself. For me the spiritual excitement began after Benediction and the first night conference.

There was meaning in certain physical things I witnessed each of the June nights I have been there. There was a mystery. It was everywhere. It was in the fireflies on Thursday nights, at dusk. And it was with the stillness of the lake on a Sunday morning, with a glass effect to the lake, before morning prayer. And believe it or not, I witnessed these things each of the last 10 years. I felt a spiritual presence in this ritual of nature, before the fishermen and the water skiers came out of the near-by homes, before and after the first and last prayers of the day. For anyone who is open and listens for a personal intention, the natural event expresses more than the event is able to express in itself—this was the definition of miracle used by Father Edward Schillebeeckx, I learned 15 years after I first visited here.

Being in the woods. Alone. And stopping for the silence. Shutting up. The awe of it all. When the silence is something felt, and more than just one thing that the five senses can pick up. To be alone in nature. Away from the urban symphony. Alone with God. In the woods. And feeling a presence in a silence, a true silence, a spiritual presence, which shouted. As I was left to interpret the language of silence here. With a retreat master.

In the study of God, Judaism can teach a lot about this world. What did people say about God’s work of creation? Where Midrash was the commentary on the Torah. About the degree of caring, about the stories, which defined us. The silent degree of caring, hidden between the lines. There was a different degree of the caring in each human. And sacrifice played a role in teaching that mysterious something. When sacrifice  brought out the hidden part. The importance for me in going on retreat was to hear the commentary of a Jesuit on his own life. And to then see it in my own. The Midrash. The degree of caring about the world all around me.

In a sense, the commentary here about creation, through/with/in my life, was the mystery of life. In this Creation, where you and I were the Midrash. Considering how inhospitable this financial environment can be –the rising taxes, the rising health insurance premiums–that commentary on creation, with my life, made the chapters worth writing, a life worth living. With passion. With more caring about the world.

The awe of the discovery of my own life when up against the world — that I was significant — made the chapters of life more understandable. Living with more caring. With zest. Living with more passion.

Oh the past six months! In these times, the whole concept of a path is a bit ridiculous. To wander for the year, without much of any income, to go forward with no clear destination in mind, is a dangerously foolish plan. Considering this environment, being here, one begins to feel a sense of the journey. Over giving yourself over to be immersed. Sinking into this Creation. In the study of God, what did people say about God’s work of creation? Or what did God say about a person’s work of creation?

The Mystery. How does one not know, not feel God? How does one feel not close to God? Not everyone does. Not everyone spends the time. Not everyone tries. I had learned to wait for those fireflies of my youth. I had learned to wait for God, who, like those fireflies, had a way of appearing when I took the time to look at this particular place.

The Mystery. Wanting more. “I suspect in wanting more, in fact, we always feel distant,” wrote Larry Gillick this week. Wondering of the meaning of people who say they would like to grow closer to God, “how would one feel if they were 50 or 70 Godmeters closer?”

The Mystery. Soon it will be time to pick up and pack my belonging and go about again. With the home field advantage in this land where I was born, I had found support and God’s grace in the company of friends and family. I sense that it soon would be a time to let it happen. That journey again, only with a sense of mastery. Of divine power. Wanting more. The Jesuits used the word “Magis.”

I saw that divine power once a year on display in those fireflies. Up close. The Magis. On the shores of this lakeside retreat. And the fireflies refreshed the degree of caring I had, while immersed, about this creation.


White House Jesuit Retreat




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2 comments so far

  1. paperlessworld on

    Male and female fireflies use their flashing lights to communicate. All species speak a language of light which, scientists believe, is used to attract mates, defend their territory, and warn off predators. Firefly flash patterns are believed to be interrupted by light pollution from all the modern inventions directed to ease human lifestyles. Scientists have observed that synchronous fireflies get out of synch for a few minutes even after the passing headlights of a vehicle.

  2. paperlessworld on

    Speaking of Ignatian Spirituality, in the eyes of Jesuit, see the attached link.

    #Demontreville #Jesuit Retreat House

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