Retreat to the mountains: Loyola style

Sometimes things seem to happen right when you need them most.  Two weekends ago, there were countless activities going on both on and off campus that I could take my pick of: the Project Mexico/Encounter El Salvador auction on Friday, the Sleep Out at City Hall, the Ignatian Family Teach-In, and I had my choice of CCSJ-related options.  But back in September, when registration opened for AMDG Retreat, something told me that in the middle of November right before the chaos of final exams and papers, I was going to need a retreat to the mountains more than anything else.

I went to the Loyola retreat house, named Rising Phoenix for the mythical bird known to rise out of the ashes of death into a new life, for the first time in April 2011.  And let me guarantee you, a short weekend at this glorious place is quite the right recipe to inspire a “rebirth” in myself and other students.

The AMDG 2012 Retreat group, photo courtesy Loyola Campus Ministry.

Women’s Retreat was a great choice for my first retreat at Loyola.  Coming from an all-girls Catholic high school, I had become accustomed to going on retreats with all girls … most of which usually ended with tears and hugs aplenty.  Loyola’s Women’s Retreat was a little more mature, though.  We explored our own independence and individual gifts, and were challenged to spend alone time with ourselves.  All of this, of course, didn’t happen without some treasured time in the craft room.

AMDG Retreat was an incredibly different experience, and new for me in a very refreshing way.  It’s billed as an “upper-level” retreat, focusing on the Jesuit core values and Ignatian themes, such as AMDG (Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam), which means “For the greater glory of God.”  The retreat is for sophomores, juniors, and seniors who have been on a Loyola retreat (or had another significant retreat experience) and are willing to challenge themselves to go deeper than typical retreat-goers.

For me, the challenge to go deeper was answered in an hour-long sojourn I took to the woods behind Rising Phoenix, located in Flintstone in western Maryland.  I sat by myself, in the cold, and just listened.  Listened to what God was trying to tell me for the first time in months, listened to what I was expecting of myself at this pivotal point in life.  I did some reflecting on my recently submitted study abroad application, which of my on-campus activities truly fulfills me, and what kind of career path I think I want to follow, not because it’s what’s expected of me but because it’s what I think will make me happy.

Well, I did all of this until I was certain I heard a deep growl come from behind a tree and then I high-tailed it back up to the house faster than I’ve moved in my life.

My retreat small group, courtesy Loyola Campus Ministry

The retreat was led by a group of student leaders, Rev. Tim Brown, S.J., the director of Campus Ministry, and Kristin Witte, the assistant director of Campus Ministry.  The amount of time, effort, and care that the team put into our AMDG retreat experience shined through even in the smallest details.

Though the main purpose of a retreat is, for me, the strengthening of my relationship with God, there are other facets of it that make it quite the worthwhile experience.

The food, as just about everyone at Loyola knows, is out of this world.  Ms. Denise and the ladies take care of all of us Greyhounds like they were our own mothers, preparing three home-cooked meals a day that never leave you hungry.  And there’s always a special (slightly-altered) portion of whatever we’re having for any students with dietary needs.

Saturday night dinner, photo courtesy Loyola Campus Ministry

Then of course there’s the time with friends who I don’t see nearly enough on campus, late-night hours gathered around the fireplace with s’mores and hot chocolate, forgetting about sleep, school, and just about everything else.

My favorite, though, is my early morning coffee, in solitude, on the back porch.  The funny part is that it actually happened by accident while I was on retreat.  We turned our phones in for the weekend (which happened to be the biggest blessing of all), so I had no way to set an alarm to wake me up in the morning.  When I heard music coming from downstairs, though, I assumed it was time to rise and get ready for breakfast.  I climbed down from my bunk, grabbed my watch, and saw that it was 8:30.  Breakfast was supposed to be at 9, so I got dressed and went downstairs.  As it turned out, I never set my clock back when Daylight Savings Time ended at the beginning of the month, and when I thought it was 8:30, it was actually 7:30.

Usually, I love my sleep.  And I mean I really love my sleep.  But I grabbed a mug of coffee, meandered outside, and let the cool air wake me up.  I guess the caffeine (and the three refills that followed) didn’t hurt, either.

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