Honestly, this week has been wonderful.
I sleep as much as I want: not that I really am sleeping any more than I usually do, and I can't even say I sleep better. Truth is, I sleep best in my own bed; but there's something about going to sleep without worrying about anything.
While I am a very sociable person, it's been nice not having to be particularly sociable. I mean, I'm here at a retreat center on my own, and there aren't many people around, and no one bothers me. I am alone with my thoughts, with the several books I brought with me, and with the quiet, calm environment around me.
Because the retreat center here has been pretty quiet, they didn't have any meals this week. No problem; I am perfectly capable of running to the store and getting edible things that go with coffee in the morning, that are portable so I can take them with me to the beach around lunch, and in finding places to eat in the evening.
What have I been reading? I re-read the holy father's Spirit of the Liturgy, written before he became pope; then I read his recent exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis. I am preparing a series of talks on the latter, and thought re-reading the former would be helpful. The youth minister was a little surprised to learn these were my plans for this week--"you shouldn't do work!"--but the thing is, this is stuff I never find time to do at the parish, and it's enjoyable, and it involves a different part of the brain. That is a kind of recuperative work that we all like to do.
This is a self-directed retreat, which is pretty low-key. There are many ways to do a retreat, and this is one of them; but the other forms are very valuable.
What's the difference between this and a vacation? I guess in some ways, not much, if you consider a week of praying, reading, reflecting, to be normal vacation activity.
It hasn't been all praying and reflecting, I confess--yesterday, it was rainy all day, so I drove into Wilmington, visited the battleship U.S.S. North Carolina, which was pretty cool; at one point, I was in the turret of the big guns (and they really are--they were capable of lobbing shells 22 miles!) and lo and behold, I was able to target a Coast Guard ship just across the Cape Fear River.
Then I went to see a movie, Spiderman 3. Go see it, it's great fun, just like the comic books, which I loved when I was a kid. I don't know if Spiderman comics are the same as they were, but they used to be all about good and evil, with Peter Parker/Spiderman faced with human dilemmas about doing what's right, even when no one knew or seemed to care and it would have been a lot easier to do the wrong thing. That's pretty good stuff for any kid to be reading, and it says something that that sort of thing was taken for granted 30 years ago. The three movies all take exactly the same approach, so kudos to the filmmaker.
Eating out has had its adventures. I took a book with me, and twice was asked, "what are you reading?" "It's called The Spirit of the Liturgy." (Blank look.) The first time, the guy said, "are you going into the seminary?" And of course I explained I already had, and he figured out that meant I was a priest. He turned out to be a soldier -- a Marine -- and as far as I could tell, something of an Evangelical Protestant. Nice guy, but when he started going on about the "Book of Revelations,"* and recent world events, I politely excused myself.
Then there was the barbeque joint in Wilmington, called "Sticky Fingers"...pretty good food. Two construction workers came in, both from South Carolina, and it was the very first time in my entire life that I met fellow Americans, native English speakers, with no apparent speech impediment, who I could not understand. They were friendly and pleasant enough, but I only got about every third word they said, and I felt awkward about saying, "I'm sorry" (I caught myself saying "please?"), and felt fake in simply nodding pleasantly when they'd say something and I had no idea what it was. I usually can do a fair job mimicking these accents, but that one just escaped me. It's nice to know our country hasn't been completely homogenized yet.
Finally, it may amuse or interest some of my readers to know that currently, I look even less like my picture up in the corner. Since no one here knows me, it seemed a good opportunity to let my beard grow, although I did trim it up so I didn't look too forlorn. The bad memories of what it was like growing a beard, from 25 years ago when last I made the attempt, are all coming back. My beard comes out in several colors (back in college, the resulting effect was red), and every possible angle. The best way I can explain it is to say that the hair on my face grows like what we used to call an "afro." The only change, from 25 years ago, is a new color--a few strands are white. So I guess that makes me officially a "greybeard."
Well, don't expect to see it; it's a pretty rotten beard. Growing a beard is one of those dumb, pretty-much- meaningless things guys do once in a while, and I figure I can do it for a few more days, then shave it all off.
* It's the Book of Revelation--no 's'--and this is important, insofar as I've noticed those who make it plural always seem to see the book as a collection, a grab-bag, of confusing stuff; as opposed to a singular revelation that--however challenged we may be to interpret it--is, nonetheless, a unified message, and not something you can reach into and pull out whatever verse or statement suits your theories at the moment.