“God loves me!” Father Tom began our eight-day silent retreat with Pope Francis’ request to Christians to reflect on this, and so we entered into silence at Mount St. Anne’s.
John is my name and I am an Alcoholic and a recovering Catholic. I grew up in Dublin in the 60’s and 70’s not with the words “God loves me”, but rather “God is watching you!” Yes, God is watching every move you make and it’s not looking good. So began my cultural upbringing of school, church and society. Walking along a razor blade all day was exhausting. Caught between wanting to do the right thing and stealing jam tarts out of the baker’s van because I was hungry, the latter always won the day. I had my first drink of alcohol on the day of my Confirmation with my friend Eamon. It seemed I was always attracted to the forbidden fruit, the excitement and drama of pushing the boundaries to the limits. God loves me? "I don’t think so. God is watching you” I heard, and so began my journey into Agnosticism and Alcoholism.
I arrived in Alcoholics Anonymous at the age of 29 mentally, physically and spiritually bankrupt. One day at a time, I have not had a drink since. That was over 32 years ago. In the beginning, not drinking was enough. The obsession was removed, sleep returned and I began to find moments of peace. Life took on a new meaning. I physically bounced back quickly. My career took off. On the outside, lots had changed, on the inside the same old attraction to excitement and drama was playing havoc. Six years without a drink I hit an emotional bottom and only then I became willing to recover and change.
Recovering something suggests it has been covered over, buried or lost. So it was with my faith. Through the steps of AA, I began to uncover and remove the wreckage of the past, make amends as best I could. I had been sorry all my life but that was as far as it got for me. I learned in AA to be sorry for my past behaviour but also to admit I was wrong and write that wrong where possible. I began seriously looking at my faith. I found this very difficult. I prayed and began reading spiritual literature. I tried meditation but could not sit still for 30 seconds. The tsunami of the past came rushing in and with it came shame, remorse and guilt. I became a doer to avoid having to sit and embrace the dark side of my character. Stay busy and avoid the discomfort. Pray and hope for the best.
One evening a member arrived at my home group and we had a coffee afterwards. He shared with me how he began meditating and gave me a DVD on Centering Prayer. It was from a Trappist Monk Thomas Keating. Thank God, I remain teachable. I cannot begin to describe my journey with Centering Prayer. The consent to be transformed by God by sitting in silence for 20 minutes, twice a day, has truly transformed my life.
This is my third eight-day silent retreat at Mount St. Anne’s. Days of solitude and silence, of walks, awareness, and gratitude. Having Kathleen and Fr. Tom there for me to check in with every couple of days was hugely beneficial.
To summarize my eight days, I see myself as the clay in the potter’s hand. Each time I sit in silence, I’m consenting to be transformed, to remove whatever God sees fit and it is always about removing old beliefs, character defects, shortcomings. What remains is a peace and a new belief that “GOD DOES LOVE ME.” To have the privilege to sit six times a day with my peers in silence and experience the power of the group is truly something special.
NO GOD NO PEACE
KNOW GOD KNOW PEACE
John, from Ireland