Thursday, June 02, 2011


This post comes to you from the campus of Loyola University Chicago, where I completed my eight-day retreat on Tuesday afternoon; my thanks to those who offered prayers, which I very happily reciprocate. Spiritually refreshed, I'm now enjoying a few days of relaxation in Chicago. Since I am a practitioner of contemplative photography, I naturally took many pictures during the retreat; I may post a wider selection of retreat images in the coming days, but for now I think that the above photo is a good fit for today's Feast of the Ascension. To all who are celebrating today, I offer my prayers for a blessed and happy feast.

For your aesthetic and spiritual edification, here is the Latin introit for today's feast, Viri Galilaei, performed by the Choralschola der Wiener Hofburgkapelle. My celebration of Ascension Day will include music of a very different sort, as I attend a concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, performing Mahler's Symphony No. 9 under the direction of Bernard Haitink. This concert brings together one of my favorite ensembles and one of my favorite conductors, playing some of my favorite music, so I have much to look forward to this evening. In a larger way, as I found on my retreat, I have very much to be grateful for, so I hope to experience this concert in a spirit of great gratitude to God. AMDG.


At 6/03/2011 12:22 PM, Blogger Robin said...

OK, I am intensely curious. How do you manage eight days of silence in a major city?

At 6/04/2011 5:25 PM, Blogger Joe said...


Very easily, in fact! I sometimes like to say that I have a very urban spirituality - I find God most easily when I'm in the city, including on retreat. (In fact, most of my recent retreats have been made in cities: Montreal, Washington, Jerusalem...) It may help that I'm an introvert: I can stay focused interiorly even if there is a lot of noise and bussle around me.

In this case, most of the Jesuits who live at the residence where I made the retreat were away, so the house was very quiet. The part of Chicago where I made the retreat is mostly residential and includes an expanse of Lake Michigan beachfront, so the environment was also a bit more tranquil than what I may have found if I'd made the retreat downtown.

At 6/04/2011 6:17 PM, Blogger Robin said...

When I made my first retreat, at Guelph, my then-director said, "It's very RURAL," in a pejorative email tone of voice. I thought that at several hundred acres it was just about the right size. Now that I am happily settled with Wernersville as "my place," I'm not sure that I can really see being cramped into a city for a retreat, even with Lake Michigan as my backyard.

I grew up way out in the country, though, and I do a lot of my walking and praying here at home in a 300-acre cemetery a couple of blocks away, so my spirituality is very open-space oriented.

I feel a post of my own coming on!

At 6/04/2011 6:32 PM, Blogger Joe said...


To me, the idea that an urban retreat leaves one "cramped into the city" is just as pejorative as your Guelph director's "RURAL" comment. On the contrary, I find a spiritual expansiveness in the city that I don't find in rural retreat houses. I also grew up in the country, but even as a child I wanted to be in the city - thus I don't think that a rural upbringing necessarily leads one to prefer open spaces.

This is all very subjective, of course - what works for each of us as individuals works because of highly individual factors, and I don't think it's possible to construct a larger theory about any of this. All I can say is that I personally prefer to make retreats in cities and often have difficulty making them at traditional rural retreat houses.

At 6/04/2011 7:02 PM, Blogger Robin said...

Oh, sorry; I didn't mean to imply that anyone else would feel "cramped" in the city. And it was someone then in Cleveland who seemed dismissive of Guelph's rural-ness.

And actually, I am thinking about some of my own limitations now, in the sense of how difficult it is for me to find God in all urban things.

At 6/04/2011 10:21 PM, Blogger Joe said...


No problem - as I say, I think it comes down to subjective personal factors. Of course, you're far from alone in preferring the quiet of the country when making a retreat; I think the fact that retreat houses are often in rural settings says something.

I suspect my preference is rather unusual; in fact, I once had some difficulty convincing a skeptical Jesuit to direct me on an urban retreat because he was so used to retreats being done in more secluded places - he eventually agreed, and it was a good retreat.

While admitting that urban retreats aren't the norm, I do know others who prefer them. In fact, the retreat I just finished was made in company with another Jesuit, a good friend with whom I have much in common (including a love for cities) and who asked me whether I'd be interested in doing our retreat together under these circumstances. This also added a lot to the retreat, which makes me wonder whether a larger post (or series of posts!) could be done looking at all kinds of variables - where one goes on retreat, whether one has company, etc. A lot of food for thought for both of us!

At 6/05/2011 1:13 AM, Blogger Michelle said...

Madeline Delbrel had a lot to say about silence, stillness, and cities. I went from a monastic site on a mountain top to Osaka (where we stayed in a hotel on a particularly frenetic alleyway) and then on to a retreat center in very rural Japan. The juxtaposition of these places and spaces has had me thinking again about what it means to be silent, still, secluded...and what sorts of exterior settings promote this.

I'm teaching a course in the fall called "Silent Spaces" and this is one of the questions we will take up.

Personally, I can find city walks as prayerful as the more rural walks, it was one of the graces of the year when my regular director was on sabbatical and my substitute director was in Philadelphia.


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