Fine Pruning: Cutting back for a more contemplative life.

Why is it that if I cut back a wayward branch on a tree, the most growth in the coming season is where I have pruned? Though I am uncomfortable admitting this, I suppose my life is the same. When I was young I grew up on mother’s milk, Catholic schools and television. I remember meticulously planning my day around the many television shows I would watch. When I was 12, I even created a chart for the Christmas season so I could watch every holiday special. I cringe at the number of hours I spent passively in front of the television in my childhood. Then, when I was 15, I discovered the challenges of Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Within a year TV had gone by the wayside; in its place came books.

In the landscape of books I was immersed in a new world of words, images and ideas. My vocabulary and perspective grew amazingly in the next few years. Books became my life for the next decade or so, but they were also getting overgrown. I felt safe in the bower of pages and texts I had built, but deep inside I began to feel stifled.

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Following an invitation from a wise old woman in my neighborhood, I traveled with her to Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist monastery outside of Portland, Ore. For 12 hours I immersed myself in silence, allowing myself to “be” rather than “do.” I walked around, sat in the forest and did very little reading of the many books I had brought along. Stripping myself of my constant busyness gave me a soul-surprising joy that I rode home on as I left that evening.

Something deep within me craved the deep connection found in that space of silence at the monastery. Being pulled in this new direction has been a slow process. I began trying to eke out time for contemplation. Specifically, I began to sit out under the trees that surround my home, letting go of everything in my mind and life and instead being present to the gifts of creation. In essence, I sit and open myself to union with the divine. This need for deeper silence ultimately called me to sign up for an Ignatian eight-day retreat in Los Altos, Calif., at the Jesuit Retreat Center this past summer. The only way to fully express the transformative quality of my experience is to share a poem I wrote about a month after I returned from my retreat.

bring me back
to the haven
of yesterday
place of
soul piercing
grace
the years
stripped from me
as I let go
the facades and
fences
constructed
exposed
standing in my
brokenness
I encountered
God’s
wellspring
only in that
union
deep within
did I know
a peace
I could not name

Upon returning I have found many consolations filling my life. The deep pruning of dead branches on my retreat has allowed a personal spiritual growth I have not experienced before. In its place many new leaves are springing up. Some of those gifts include a new level of compassion and acceptance of self, deeper connection with the divine and a pull toward writing poetry. In the midst of this change, my day looks different. I spend my time and life energy in new ways, and I am all the richer for it. What other parts of my life will I prune next in my spiritual garden? The answer is my own journey to wholeness.

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