Abraham Heschel is quoted for saying that “prayer begins at the edge of emptiness.” This Fall when I along with five other St. David’s parishioners went to a silent retreat at Leb Shomea — a Catholic estate whose purpose is to serve as a house of prayer– I was, without knowing it, in search of the “edge of emptiness.” Perhaps inspired by this intention, I found the courage one weekend to carry my bag of questions and unplug from the world for the sake of self-reflection.
Leb Shomea is located about 60 miles south of Corpus Christi. The compound is about 100 acres with 30 buildings which include the “big house” and hermitages. When we entered the dirt road that led to Leb Shomea, we were received by hundreds of butterflies and moths that swirled around our cars. The dry -dead and now ash-colored- mesquite trees that surrounded the road created an almost fantasy framework to the swirling yellow, black, and purple butterflies. Just like the thoughts that I was trying to tame, the unpredictable flight of the butterflies was relentless for the three days we were there. They were emerging from trees, from the ground you stepped on – everywhere.
With the exception of mass each morning, the retreat is spent in silence. There is no talking on the compound and meals are spent in silence as well. That was a first for me. Sitting next to each other without needing to say anything – without having to make a statement, dispel a rumor or state a political outrage. During lunch one morning I remember what the Lord told Moses: “I Am that I Am”. There we were just being, and being was all that was needed. Being was everything and it was sufficient, and it was beautiful.
There is a lot of contemplative walking and sitting, and frankly a lot of catch-up sleep at a silent retreat. After exploring every walking trail and hours of reading, I got really bored. And that’s when the magic began. After exhausting all forms of distraction there is nothing else to do but to face yourself and get comfortable with your own company, engage with your own existence.
The final report is that after all that contemplative time I didn’t get answers for my bag of questions. Instead I felt the good Lord sent me back with this: ask again, but this time I should rework my questions from “I” to “We” – “I should,” “I can” should be reborn into “we should,” “we can”– with Christ, in Christ. In the “we” the perspective we crave is greater than the single existence we face, the context is Universal. In my solitude, I saw the necessity to embrace the seemingly natural and tender flow found in the “we.” The bridge to “we” also seemed clear; it lived in the loving eyes of those dear and close to me. This is my path to the edge of emptiness. I left the retreat trusting this message.
The road to Leb Shomea is dusty, quiet, loud, distracted, mindful, scenic, alive, and mundane. We are all walking on this road, and sometimes we get to Leb Shomea, or we could stop – and let Leb Shomea come to us. Even further behind the everyday fluttery background there is a steady silence, always accessible and ever present. That I felt was a gentle taste of the peace of Christ. Let’s meet there someday – empty of oneness. Let us just be. It will be beautiful.