Several years ago I decided to make my annual retreat at a Trappist Monastery in Conyers, Georgia. In making this decision, I thought I could kill three birds with one stone. First and foremost, it would give me a chance to make a retreat a quiet and prayerful place. Additionally, though, since I was going on retreat in January it would afford me the opportunity to get away for a week from the cold winter in Minnesota. Finally, at the end of the retreat I could spend a couple days with one of my brothers and his family who live north of Atlanta.
Now, while the monastery was indeed very conducive to prayer, and while I enjoyed the time I spent with my brother and his family, the weather did not cooperate. A couple of nights the temperature hovered around the freezing point and while there was sunshine during the day, you definitely needed a sweater and coat if you were going outside. This caused me to spend more time in the chapel—which was not a bad thing.
One of my favorite memories of that retreat occurred each morning when I would join the monks for Morning Prayer. I suspect the chapel was one of the first things the monks built when the monastery was founded. I say this because the heat for the chapel came from a central source, and was not dispersed via a ventilation system throughout the chapel. Thus, the further you got away from that central source the colder you were. In the morning, the younger monks would bring four elderly monks who were in wheelchairs to the chapel. These monks would have their capes and robes wrapped tightly around them to keep warm. When they were brought into the chapel, though, instead of going to the pews these monks would be positioned in front of the central heating vent where it was warmest. When the fan for the heat kicked in and the warm air began to fill the chapel, these monks would open their capes to capture the warmth and draw it into themselves. I looked forward to watching this each morning.
As I reflected on this experience during the retreat, it struck me that it was a wonderful metaphor for welcoming God into our lives. Often times we can be wrapped up tightly by different things that are going on in our lives. Sometimes past hurts keep us bound up and closed off. At other times it could be our fears or worries. Sometimes it can be excessive busyness or addictive behaviors. At these times, it is difficult for us to be open to God and the grace God wants to offer us. If we can open ourselves to God’s grace, though, it can and will make a difference.
The issue, though, is where do we find God’s grace? Well, I think we can take a hint from the monks at that Trappist Monastery. They knew that if they went to the source of the heat, not only would that be the warmest place, but when the heating fan kicked in they would be flooded with warmth. In a similar way, when we are feeling bound or at a distance from God’s grace, if we can go to where we have felt and experienced God’s grace in the past, eventually we will find and feel God’s grace anew. And if we open ourselves to it, it will flood over us and warm our souls.
There are times in each of our lives when we feel bound, or stuck, or at a distance from God’s grace. When these times occur, we should not retreat into ourselves. Instead we need to remember and go to those places where we have felt close to God or where we have experienced God’s grace in the past. In my own life when I have done this, I found God patiently waiting there for me and inviting me to let his grace wash over me and warm my soul.