“Go not with expectations but with hopes.” This was the advice Jay Verzosa, Campus Minister of Faith Formation, gave to the Le Moyne students who participated in the Finding God Retreat from Nov. 12 to Nov. 14. The retreat took the students to the Villa Le Moyne in Cazenovia.
“It’s okay to hope for things,” explained Charlie Duffy, one of the students on the retreat, “but don’t expect things. You might miss what’s in front of you.”
“I went in with some hopes. I found it was way more than I thought I would get out of it,” said Morgan Schmitt, a retreat participant.
The Villa provided the students a sanctuary to build an awareness of God, an Ignatian principle teaching that God can be found in everything.
“We were all brought together in the same place searching for God in our times of joy and happiness and our times of sorrow,” said Tammy Kinney, a student at the retreat.
Together the group participated in in-depth reflection sessions, which included reading books, sharing life stories, singing songs, and journaling. The activities gave them an overview of their lives and God’s place in them.
“The basic premise is story and it’s looking at your life both through stories of others and what kind of story you tell about your life,” said Duffy. “What is the story of your daily life and how can you make it better?”
To search for God in all things requires training. It is a matter of observing God not only in religious matters but also in all circumstances of life — right down to the details of daily living. According to Verzosa the name of the retreat, “Finding God,” comes from St. Peter Claver, an early Jesuit who said, “When we seek God in all things, we shall find God by our side.”
“That’s the root of that Ignatian phrase ‘finding God in all things.’ It’s really looking at God working in every aspect of creation,” Verzosa said.
Ignatian spirituality outlines three motions used to build awareness of God. They are attentiveness of one’s setting, reflection on the things and qualities observed, and devotion or love, which is found after the first two motions are achieved.
“At first you really have to concentrate and look back to see those moments that stand out in your day. But when it becomes a daily practice, you learn to be much more attentive in that you can spot these moments as they’re happening,” explained Verzosa.
Through attentiveness, one can then reflect on those experiences “to make sense of your life. It’s that age-old question, ‘What does it all mean?’” he added.
“The easiest way to do that is to look at patterns in your life. What’s really life giving for you? What’s not so life giving for you? When you see those patterns it gives you that insight so you can make more deliberate, more conscious choices about your life and from that Ignatian perspective it’s about making those choices in a very loving way,” said Verzosa.
“You’re trying to make choices so that your days are filled with more moments of consolation. That’s that very deliberate move of seeking God in all things, recognizing that God is all around you, God really is in all creation,” he said.
The Ignatian movements, according to Verzosa, are not meant to be experienced in separate stages. The retreat program, however, purposely breaks it into three movements so as not to make it overwhelming. Building one’s spirituality is a lot like building one’s physical strength, said Verzosa, so practice must be gradual.
“I think by focusing on the three different [Ignatian concepts] it allowed people to deeply reflect and see how they connect themselves with it. Then they felt more comfortable or more tuned to that topic and were able to put forth their own experiences,” said Elizabeth Vanasdale, a retreatant.
Schmitt was struck in particular by the last concept, to “be loving.”
“We would talk about being attentive and talk about being reflective and hearing it was really good but I still wasn’t sure how to put it into practice. Hearing ‘be loving’ really brought it all together for me. Something clicked,” she said.
By being attentive and reflective, one can find love and devotion in moments that might otherwise be overlooked.
According to Duffy, it’s a lot like target practice where you can make a big difference on hitting your target just by adjusting a few millimeters on your end.
“That’s what, in a sense, these tools are about. It’s finding these little small changes you can make. Being that much more aware of what’s happening to somebody, [you’re] recognizing the human being in somebody else and being able to give just that little piece each day or as needed,” Duffy said.
“Something I always try to bring back for myself after every retreat that I go on is the idea that I’m not alone. Nobody is alone,” said Kinney.
God, as the retreatants learned, is found even amidst interactions and people.
“Wherever there is a relationship, a connection, that’s where you’ll find God,” said Kinney.