We go home tomorrow morning after breakfast, and at breakfast we can talk.

Some of us cannot wait that long.

So after evening prayer, five of us, as prearranged, meet surreptitiously on the first floor, away from everybody’s bedrooms. We close the door, open some wine bought earlier in the day, and tell our stories. We talk some church politics, praising our thrilling new pope, deriding the sex abuse mess. One woman, who worked with her husband for her local archdiocese, tells a funny tale about reaching her boiling point over low salaries and standing up at a big archdiocesan meeting and blasting everybody. Then she had to go home and confess the faux pas to her horrified spouse.

These women, like so many other Catholics I’ve met at retreats, are far less interested in church rules, canon law, and institutional Catholicism’s missteps than in their own experiences of faith, which are powerful. Their “sparks of God,” as one woman put it. They want to find, as Thomas Keating writes, “the divine way” to live their lives, whether they’re teachers, nurses, lawyers, or frustrated mothers who spend their days picking up dirty socks. They want to live, as Keating says, “ordinary life with extraordinary love.”

One woman who passed on our wine bash said earlier that she had progressed so far in the spiritual journey, she had “no energy for the negative anymore.” Over chardonnay and Merlot, the rest of us quickly agree: we’re very far from that place. But one day, maybe one day …

Our time here has not only slowed us down, but also opened us up, making space for the awe and mystery to slip in, and change us. Our time here has even made death and dying seem less the ultimate disaster — to be pushed back and away and ignored for as long as possible, no matter the toll — but a process to be lived and even embraced, fully. Once, we are told, we were pushed without our permission from the serenity of our mothers’ wombs into a harsh and unknown world -– a world we came to love. At death, once again without our permission, we will be pushed into another world, and carried in the womb of God.

Tomorrow: Taking the ecstasy home

Read earlier installments in this series