Some Practical Help for Getting Started This Week. 
Each week, there will be some practical help to prepare for this week's retreat and for getting the most from it.

Notice what the questions are about this week. That will make them memorable. They ask us to focus on images, memories, crossroads, specific painful memories. We could say, “I already did that!” This week we are asked to recollect those special memories that came to the surface and to revisit them, so that we can use them to go deeper.

Is there a desire coming out of last week? We’ll see this question often. It asks us to be attentive, to notice, even the most subtle of new attractions, even new curiosities within me. For example, I might recognize a desire in me to spend more time reflecting on a particular time in my life that I didn’t have much time to reflect on last week. Or I might just remember several important people in my life whom I haven’t contacted in a while and feel a desire to write them.

Stay where you find fruit. This direction from Ignatius is very wise. If I’ve experienced fruit — consolation, some wonderful insight, a closeness to God, even a new awareness — I can trust that that gift is a signal from God: “Look deeper here, my dear friend, for I have so much more I want to give you.” Another way of looking at this is to imagine receiving a gift, all wrapped in paper and ribbon and a big bow. I can know it’s a gift, and even know who the giver is, and even say, “Thank you,” without opening it. This direction from Ignatius invites us to explore the gift and discover what it really is.

Panning for gold. The image of panning for gold will be a helpful image throughout our retreat. Imagine a stream, with water rushing by all the time — a pretty good image of our busy lives. Imagine putting my pan — a sieve or screen — into the water. What happens? I get a pan full of stuff. As I shake it a bit, some of the smaller debris falls through the screen and I can look at larger stones that were in the water. And there in my pan, I discover a piece of gold. The message: I won’t get that piece of treasure by just sitting by the edge of the stream peering into the water. I have to pan for it — sort out some por­tion of my experience and go deeper into it. And remember, if I discover some kernel of gold, it would be very important to weigh it — write it down and perhaps share the grace with others on the sharing page on the retreat Web site.

How NASA handles an image from space. Another image is that this is like the way NASA receives an image from space. When they first receive the image, it is fuzzy and one piece of a whole series of images. Then NASA gets to work to clean up the images — getting rid of the distortions that come from the long transmission. They then digitally enhance the image — basically, by filling in what is missing and thus making the image sharper. And finally, they put the various images together, and before our eyes, there is a spectacular Martian landscape.

It’s still about background. Doing this retreat in everyday life will challenge us to keep using that space in the background. There’s lots of debris and noise and distortion in our busy lives. If we can purify the background and let this week’s questions flow in and out of that background all week, then we will notice a tremendous difference. Again, writing my answers down, or even saying them out loud, even in my head, will help preserve the grace.

By the end of the week we will want to be holding our whole life up to God — especially the parts that are least attractive, which might seem unacceptable. It’s all about gratitude. I don’t have to be together to be grateful.

Enjoy the journey. We are just beginning, starting to let God work in us. God can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Let’s trust it and enjoy it.

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