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Labor Day weekend I was on a 3 day silent retreat at Demontreville Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Elmo. No one lays on the line quite like a Jesuit. It was a super time and I have been Renewed and in many ways "newed".
I wonder if I ever told you about a previous trip I made to Demontreville during Liam Jr.'s first year of life. I was having trouble at home, adjusting to having a baby was taking it's toll on our marriage. I was also having a very difficult time at my job of the previous five years.
The priest presiding over that weekend suggested we do a visual/physical exercise on the Prodigal Son. We were to walk anywhere on the grounds, preferably a hill, and see ourselves as the Prodigal returning to heaven. As we walked we were to imagine, not God, but a person we were having difficulty with, running down the hill to welcome us home. I found a hill that went past the pasture to the Hermits and I began my walk, imagining my wife running to me.
I felt nothing.
I tried to be earnest in my prayer, but I felt nothing. I saw nothing. I did find, however that I had made it to the top of the hill. There, on the side of the paved path on which I walked, in the dead, dry grasses, was a beautiful colorful Daisy.
I turned my head toward heaven and said, "This is it? A flower?"
I looked down at the plant, but continued my rant to God, "I have all these issues. I come here to get some kind of discernment, and now I am supposed to go running back to everyone and tell them...'God put that flower there, just for me' in some weepy voice? I don't think so. I pray to be ready when you really try to reach me."
Then I heard a clip-clop kind of noise and looked up the road from my tantrum. There stood a full grown Doe as close as if I were in petting zoo holding a bag of corn. The deer was looking behind her into the woods where she came from. I was frozen there like a...well...like a deer in headlights.
Out of the woods, where she was looking, stumbled a fawn about waist high to me. The fawn came and stood next to his mother. Then they looked at me. What they were looking at could have been a drooling idiot with his mouth hanging open and his eyes not sure if they were going to shut or pop out of his head. But for the grace of God. I quickly passed through my surprise and felt instead peace of incredible proportion and an answer from my Lord Jesus Christ. "Take care of your wife and son" was the message. And I vowed to do it. Praise to you, Jesus Christ.
This year, 5 or 6 years later, I couldn't wait to go back to my own precious holy place. Our leader gave us an exercise of focusing on Good Friday, and for each part of our Lord's hurting, human, body we were to confront our sins with those parts of our own bodies.
This was painful stuff to look at. I wanted something more cheerful. Regardless, I started up my hill, fully expecting a herd of deer to rub there noses against my hand. When I got to the spot where I had seen the flower, I looked and there were only weeds. I looked into the pasture that is there and not even the horses were behind the electric fence.
I walked up to where I figured the deer must have crossed the road, but that wasn't going to happen this year. To the side of the road I saw a new fence that Father had told us about, apparently they wanted the deer to stop eating the flowers.
I made it up to where the Hermits live and looked through their fence. They have a completely renovated area and it intrigued me. How can they live up here with little more than a bible and a bed? Maybe, I thought, if my family was all wiped out in one horrible car accident I would come here. I would need God so much and I would get nothing from people. I wondered if that was the kind of guys these hermits were.
I turned my gaze to the woods. Again wondering if my deer were ever going to show. Then I started thinking of the exercise. Sure, I have used my feet, body, lips and head to sin, but I have also used them for good.
My feet brought me here, right?
And with my lips I tell lots of people about what happened to me here.
With my mind, I've often reflected on what happened here, and it always brings me into quiet communion with God.
I suddenly felt very good. Here, reflecting on my deepest darkest sins, I suddenly felt very, very good about myself. My frailties, my humanness, are ingredients that a loving Creator knows are in me. I am a creature of God, more than that, I am a loved creature of God.
"You did it again," I said, "in the same place, too."
I realized that I am more than my sin, that I exist without my sin and I am loved by a merciful God. This feeling was awesome beyond compare! "This is my own personal place to communicate with God," I thought. "When I am here He always gives me what I need, even if it is not what I am looking for."
I looked quickly on the side of the road for a flower.
There were still only weeds. "God, I would take a weed from you over the prettiest flower the world could ever offer," I said aloud, noticing the caretakers dog in the pasture.
Or was it a fox? It was behind a grassy knoll and I could only see her eyes and her pointed ears.
It only took me a second to understand.
I looked to heaven, and wept.
The very tiny baby deer stood up as I fell to my knees in awe and thanksgiving,
"You are good Lord!" I cried aloud.
"Jesus I know you are here, I know you are with me always!"
She sat on her haunches and I stayed there kneeling. With every twitch she made I thought my Lord was going to jump the electric fence and come to me. I waited and prayed my prayer of thankfulness and joy. I tried to remind God that I was supposed to be bringing to mind my sins and faults.
The bells began to ring for our next conference. I had reached a point where I no longer needed the deer to come to me. Now I just wanted to see her run and jump through the pasture. I knew if I got up quick, or charged the fence, that would make her run. But I could not frighten her.
I slowly stood and began my walk back to my exercises. I kept looking over my shoulder, expecting to see the deer running up to me like a dog that does not want to be left behind. Alas, she remained where I first saw her; her eyes followed me until I was out of sight.
The next day, the gate to this area was locked when I approached.
On the last day, I was able to return. I got to the pasture and my deer was gone. I did not give up, though. I believe in Jesus and I just finished an incredible retreat. Our final exercise was similar to our initial one, only this time we were to think about what good we can do with our feet, body, eyes and head. I only thought about this for a second when a large Doe and her medium sized fawn ran quickly across the path towards the big fence. It seems I did not notice a section of the fence was not yet complete.
Again, I became emotional. "I do not deserve your love, My Jesus!" I cried, followed by, "That was only two."
The medium sized fawn returned and stood on the path looking into the woods where they had just come from. I heard a noise in the woods and my heart leapt. Out came a second fawn which joined the other and they both ran up into the woods on the other side.
I did not see the very tiny deer from Friday, but I will always have her in my heart. My baby, my Erin. Making babies is something good to do with my body! Thanks be to God for using what you know I understand to drive that point home.
I pray that I continue to use my feet and body and lips and mind to please my Creator. There is no doubt of His love for me.