Sept. 9, 2019 - I grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis. My grandparents had a farm about an hour outside the city. As kids, my sister and I would often go there for a long weekend with Grandma and Granddad. For me, these trips were a little taste of Heaven.
They would pick us up on a Saturday morning. My grandfather drove one of those massive Buicks that were popular in the 1970s; it was like a giant green yacht on wheels. My sister, Katie, and I would run out of the house to the car with our bags. We’d sling the bags in the trunk and slide onto that slick vinyl backseat.
An hour later, my sister and I would wake up just as the car started rumbling down the gravel road. An old country song played quietly on the radio. We’d see the red barn, the little bridge and my grandparents’ farmhouse. This was their weekend place—a scenic spot for rest and recreation.
We had a ritual of quickly unpacking and then suggesting foods for my grandma to make: “Fried chicken! Apple pie! Bacon and eggs!” First, she wanted to look at the garden with my sister, while my granddad and I went to the barn to check on the animals.
He was tall and lanky, as I am now. He could have walked faster, but he went slowly so that I could keep up, taking three steps for every one of his. As we walked, he’d stop to point out little details in nature. As we crossed the creek, he said, “See here, JW” – his nickname for me, the initials of my first and middle name, Joseph William. “Right here, these little fish. Those aren’t really fish. They’re tadpoles. They’ll get bigger and turn into frogs.” I had heard this from my science teacher in school, but seeing them now with Granddad, made it alive and real.
He continued: “And here, see this pink flower? Well, that flower will turn into an apple. And then we can pick them, and your grandma can make them into a nice apple pie.” He’d also ask me about my classes at school, about my baseball team and about my parents. We’d continue our journey together to the barn, and then head to the fishpond.
These weekends were a taste of Heaven in a rural Missouri Eden. I was like a little eight-year-old Adam, with my grandpa as a loping image of God. He took time with me. He literally bent down to speak at my level. We are made in the image and likeness of God [Genesis 1:27]. God became man in Jesus, “stooping” to our level to speak words of love to us in a way that we could understand.
Sometimes we simply need a place of quiet to see the Lord and to see ourselves more clearly. A retreat can offer us that place of peace, where we set aside the busy confusion of daily life. We are blessed with seven Jesuit retreat/spirituality centers in our province; find the list at jesuits.org/retreat-centers.
A spiritual book can also help us to find that place of peace in daily life. You might use mine, below, or one from another Jesuit author.
Abide in the Heart of Christ: A 10-Day Personal Retreat with St. Ignatius Loyola
By Fr. Joe Laramie, SJ
Available Sept. 13, 2019, from Ave Maria Press.
In Abide in the Heart of Christ, Fr. Joe Laramie offers accessible wisdom from the foundations of Jesuit spirituality – the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. This book will enable you to make a ten-day personal retreat in the midst of your daily life, helping you encounter Christ and grow in your relationship with him.
Find information, excerpts, videos and more at joelaramiesj.com.