Time Unchained

September 04, 2021

Written by: Bro. Brian Poulin

Saturday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time

I’ve flossed my teeth at least eight days this year. That might be eight more days than in 2020, when some nasty global pandemic went and cancelled my dentist appointments for me. Eight days of flossing might not be enough to make me a brand ambassador for Oral-B, but it is at least a bit better than my more traditional practice of only bothering to floss on days when I am about to have my teeth cleaned anyway.

What led to this apparent breakthrough in dental hygienic practice? I owe it all to the retreat I recently made, but not because of any dental epiphany that overcame me. Instead, I simply remembered to pack floss. I also had plenty of time to use it, especially since I wasn’t doing much else for that week. At all.

Most religious brothers and sisters lead lives full of work and relationships in which prayer plays a vital part in setting the tone for our activities without dominating each day’s schedule by any means. No, we do not just sit around and pray all day. Or at least most of the time we don’t. But on this particular retreat, that’s kind of almost what I did.

Our youth retreats are fun and frenetic, meant to both inspire reflection and make young people want to keep coming back for more opportunities to deepen their relationship with God, others, and themselves. Most retreats that adults make are a good bit calmer, to say the least. My suggested schedule for this particular retreat was a daily meeting with my spiritual director to discuss my experiences in prayer and reflection, participation in Mass, and three meals. The rest of the time was mine to plan how I wanted, with the expectation that I include at least three significant periods of prayer each day.

Normally, retreats like this are a time that I do a fair bit of spiritual reading. It is also about the only time that I’ll permit myself to get really into a jigsaw puzzle. Since I leave my computer at home and my phone off and away for the whole time period (as many frustrated correspondents have discovered), I am free to engage in such quieter activities that have little to do with my normal world of obligation. This retreat however, I decided not to read a single book, nor did I touch a single puzzle. This was largely in response to my awareness that sometimes on retreat I actually end up reading too much as I give into my compulsion to finish one book than another. This time I took a radically different approach, as a way of experimenting. I still enjoyed walks outside, but the great bulk of the information I consumed each day was simply one Scripture passage and one religious image from Bro. Mickey McGrath, OSFS.

Yes, I was afraid that I could end up bored, and yes I had a couple back-up books in my duffle bag just in case this attempt at a minimal input retreat just didn’t do it for me. Instead of boredom however, I found time unfolding in an expansive and luxurious way. Returning to the same Scripture passage at different points throughout the day allowed my reflection to ripen over time. I was also free to “waste” as much time as possible because there was nothing else that I was supposed to do.

And so I sat and prayed, prayed and sat. And somehow, I was able to experience once more a rich pleasure in my prayer that I don’t find too often outside of retreat (and that is not guaranteed within retreat either). I opened up my time, offered it to God, and allowed him to fill it.

I can’t live that way forever. At 2.30pm on the last full day of the retreat, my prayer shifted into an awareness that this particular time of grace was effectively over. The extraordinary experience had ended with still 20 hours left before my departure, so yes I did some reading during that last chunk of time, but not a whole lot. And now I am back in the world of intense busyness.

But for one week, I enjoyed time as a gift instead of as a challenge or a scarce commodity. And that has strengthened me once more for the tasks and concerns I have returned to in the meanwhile.


This week’s ‘ear candy’ raises some interesting questions: How has it not previously been selected for this blog? Also, why does a song instructing us to slow down last less than three minutes? The ‘brain food’ is a short article recommended to me by Mr. Matt Fallon, youth minister extraordinaire for our Marist family in the USA, about the need for the Church to integrate with our general culture and for its public representatives to provide joyful witness.

Ear Candy: “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” by Simon & Garfunkel

Brain Food: “Pope Francis: It’s Sad to See Men and Women Religious ‘Who Have No Sense of Humor’” by Junno Arocho Esteves

Come back on the first Saturday of next month for a new post!