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When God gives you silence and ice cream
A reflection on the free gift of His love
While it may be true that “the key to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” I’d like to think that this is also true for women. And while I can’t speak for all women on this topic, it appears that God has picked up exactly that this does work for me.
Recently, I went on a silent retreat. Silent retreats of varying lengths are the norm for religious and clergy, and in fact, is one of the aspects of the life that I miss from my time as a postulant: Intentional time set apart for silence so that I can really talk with the Lover of my soul.
In the secular world, it takes a bit more effort to make something like this happen. But in a huge dose of God’s grace and providence, an opportunity was provided for me to do a weekend silent retreat at the Benedictine abbey in our archdiocese.
Before discerning religious life, the thought of being in total silence scared me.
Perhaps it was because of my anxiety or the fact that I have an overactive mind. Even when I was outwardly quiet, my insides were screaming, kicking, and anything but quiet.
In time, this was a practice that I was introduced to and came to really enjoy. It has become easier now to sit in a wholistic silence—outwardly and inwardly—and feel at peace. Of course, there are still occasional moments of chaos where my brain doesn’t shut off. But over time, the quieting of my mind and heart has really opened the door to a greater awareness of where God is.
And so, Providence led me to a Benedictine abbey one weekend.
One of the unique things about meals during silent retreats is that—and you probably guessed this—we eat in silence!
If you were to go to any restaurant and you were to see a table of people eating in silence, you may jump to many conclusions. They probably had a pretty hard conversation, or a fight just broke out, or maybe it is a reeeeeeeeally awkward first date.
Retreatants will eat in silence (that is, no conversation at the table), but it’s not quite “you can hear a pin drop” silence. Typically there is a passage from a spiritual book that is read aloud, a kind of ‘spiritual food’ to nourish the soul from the lives of the saints or another prominent church thinker. But another dimension of it is the invitation to really savour the food you’re eating—think texture, flavour—and being in the presence of God.
So here I was, at our last lunch on Sunday afternoon.
Some kind of dessert is usually placed on a separate table away from the main course. On this particular day, it was cookies. Before going back to my seat, I took an oatmeal cookie.
The meal went along as it had the last several: We were listening to St. Teresa of Ávila’s autobiography while eating in silence.
But then. Oh, but then.
In the hallway, I could hear the low rumble of a metal cart rolling across the cement floor. The clattering of something—plates? cups? trays?—got louder and louder as the cart came closer to the dining hall.
Suddenly, one of the monks appeared, pushing a cart of bowls with individual scoops of ice cream in each.
All at once I was shocked and elated. The women sitting at my table told me afterwards that my face “just lit up” when the ice cream arrived. I imagine it probably looking something like
Y’all, I love ice cream. Of all sweet things it probably is the thing I prefer the most. So to have an entire cart of ice cream show up at the tail end of my retreat was really a huge surprise.
There is no inherent spiritual or theological value to ice cream: it is simply a good thing that people have created.
And yet, this was a sweet (pun intended) moment where I really could feel the Lord holding me. There was already incredible spiritual reward from the time spent in retreat and I knew there were so many graces that were just waiting to be reaped. But this—to use another sweet metaphor—was the icing on the cake.
God knows each of us so intimately, down to the last detail of what will bring us joy and delight. He delights in giving us good things: Jesus tells us that our heavenly Father will give good things to those who ask Him (cf. Matthew 7:11). And in another place, Jesus also says that God knows what we need even before we ask (cf. Matthew 6:8).
What was so fun about this moment was the sheer surprise of it all. It wasn’t something I asked for or necessarily wanted in the moment. But out of God’s abundance, He gave me a free gift and showed His love for me.
His love is that free gift, and He offers it to us moment by moment, again and again.
So while that gift may not necessarily come to you in the form of ice cream in a bowl, rest assured: He has good gifts for you. May we be still and recollected enough, trusting in His love and mercy, to see and receive the gifts He continues to shower on us each and every moment.
In Jesus Master,