I gaze around the tiny room, two chairs and a book shelf, the sunlight streaming through the windows. Stillness is foreign to me, a disquieting realization on this, my first day of a weeklong near-silent retreat. Susan Bowers Baker, a slip of a woman who is the spiritual director of the Jesuit Retreat Center in Wernersville, Pennsylvania, waits patiently.
I glance at my watch, then up at Susan. “Seven days,” I say. I tap my watch. Tap. Tap. Tap. “I have seven days to fix my relationship with Jesus.”
Susan laughs, and I give her a tentative grin, but when she sees my eyes welling, she falls silent.
“I think I’m having a spiritual crisis,” I confess, as a single, rebellious tear breaks free and rolls down my cheek.
For years I have been struggling with a slow-burning ennui that leaves me bored in prayer, jotting to-do lists as I sit in church, barely giving God a thought as I sprint from one story to another as a reporter for NPR. This malaise is all the more perplexing because of its historical contrast: 14 years earlier, at age 35, I had a surprising and dramatic conversion. At the time, I had thought I was past the age of surprises, and yet there I was, encountering a fellow named Jesus in the most visceral way, an experience that “strangely warmed” my heart long before I read John Wesley’s words. The honeymoon lingered for years: the rich, evocative times of prayer, the minor and almost daily miracles, the sense that God was here, as I rode in a taxi or pulled out my notepad for an interview.
Now, as I sit in that chair in Susan’s spartan office, pausing for a moment in my frenetic life, I feel the silence of an empty soul. It seems to me that God has left the ...