I admit I didn’t quite know what to make of the praise singing that started last weekend’s Blessed is She retreat. Being from Virginia and living in Philadelphia, I’m nothing if not traditional and I’d never experienced hymns (much less contemporary worship songs) outside of a church. But what a retreat weekend it was.
Friday night was liquid fellowship and vegetarian tamales (Lent in Texas, y’all!) with three of our pilgrim sisters who were making the retreat with us. There was Victoria, the old soul, mothering us all (As the mom of a two-year-old, I think she was a little scared by our talk of school issues and the teen years!), Michelle, beautiful inside and out, and petite, pixie-haired Chandi, so energized about her faith and friendship that I can’t help but be inspired.
The Saturday retreat began with, yes, the praise music (and Chick-fil-A breakfast sandwiches!) in a beautifully decorated church hall filled with more than 100 women of varying ages. There were just at many babes in arms as ladies of our, um, maturity. We were treated to a program of speakers, with time for personal journaling, sharing with our prayer partners and the sacrament of confession. (And more food!)
Sister Maria Fatima, O.P. was the first speaker and I was taken by her loving energy and spiritually empowering message. Sister Fatima is a robust New England gal (really, she’s a gal—feminine, with a warm smile and ready laugh, but with the no-nonsense backbone needed for her job, teaching theology to middle school boys. Think Annie Oakley in a habit.) She shared Pope Emeritus Benedict’s quote, “Each of us is willled, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary”, and challenged us to receive our “chosenness” with an open heart like Mary, not grasp at it on our terms like Eve. How hard to just be, to accept His love and not try to mold it to our will!
After inspiring talks, after the sharing, after Vigil Mass and dinner, we headed to the intimate, stone-arched chapel for our last speaker and for adoration. Mary Lenaburg shared the story of her daughter Courtney, severely disabled soon after birth and taken home to the Lord a few years ago at age 22. She spoke of the pure love Courtney gave and received, and had us in laughter and tears as she told us of her journey. Mary’s warmth spread Courtney’s love over us and there wasn’t a dry eye when the priest entered with the monstrance.
During adoration, I looked around at my pilgrim friends, new friends from the retreat and all those moms with their babies, some nursing quietly in the darkened room. Experienced moms took turns holding infants so that their moms could worship freely, pacing the back of the chapel with that rocking bounce so familiar to anyone who has walked a fussy baby. I was overcome with the perfect love in those babies, reflecting God’s perfect love for me, manifested in the Blessed Sacrament on the altar.
My children are grown, and recent weeks have been a swirl of change in their lives. I can’t soothe their fears by rocking them to sleep. I can’t go back and be one of those young moms again, getting a do-over to fix any one of the myriad of mistakes I made–all the times I didn’t listen with my whole heart, all the times I wasn’t the mother they needed me to be. That night in Austin, I had to leave my brokenness as a mother with our Lord. I prayed to accept, really accept, my chosenness.
And the praise music quietly played on the piano in the corner? I was absolutely alright with that, too. I might even make a couple of new playlists.