Photo: Courtesy of St. Edmund's Retreat Center
It was a perfect setting for a retreat. The only thing left to do was, well, retreat from all of the concerns that followed me here.
The Woodcarver and the Wemmicks
A Retreat with St. Faustina, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and a Picture Book
A series of children's picture books by the Christian author Max Lucado features a village of wooden people called Wemmicks, who are all made by the woodcarver Eli.
Wemmicks spend every day putting stickers on one another. Talented, beautiful Wemmicks get gold stars while damaged or unimpressive Wemmicks get gray dots. Many Wemmicks get both.
In the first of the Wemmick books, one particularly gray-dotted Wemmick, Punchinello, learns on a visit to Eli that "the stickers only stick if you let them." The woodcarver tells Punchinello, "I don't care what the other Wemmicks think ... and you shouldn't, either. Who are they to give stars or dots? They're Wemmicks just like you ... All that matters is what I think. And I think you are pretty special."
As Punchinello leaves Eli's workshop, one of his many gray dots falls to the ground.
I remembered little Punchinello recently while I was on a retreat. The morning I left for the retreat, I read this passage in St. Faustina's Diary:
I am beginning the retreat today. Jesus, my Master, guide me ... Keep me, Jesus, in a recollected spirit!
...[T]he Lord said to me, My daughter, let nothing frighten or disconcert you. Remain deeply at peace. Everything is in my hands. I will give you to understand everything through Father Andrasz. Be like a child towards him. ( 218)
Saint Faustina had written that entry on the first day of her eight-day retreat before perpetual vows. My retreat, silent but directed by a priest, was to be a time of private reflection before I took my own vows at my wedding in less than three weeks.
Saint Edmund's Retreat Center was on Ender's Island, a small patch of land set serenely on Fisher's Island Sound in Mystic, Conn. There, I wandered through gardens with statues of our Lord and Our Lady and the saints and knelt in chapels adorned with original works by calligraphers and iconographers who taught sacred art workshops on the island. All the while, the water lapped at the shores as if prostrating itself before God's holy place like the priest before the altar on Good Friday.
But I was not at peace.
I had left behind my glutted schedule, but crossing state lines hadn't switched off my New York hyper-productivity. I had brought a pile of books with me, and on my first full day on the island, I read a beautiful one, The Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. But I was filled with anxiety about whether I could write in my journal, spend time in prayer and read the other books I had brought before I left the following day.
I was exhausted and tense by the time I met with Fr. Tom that evening. When I told him about the state of my mind, he told me not to read anymore but to take a walk and watch the sunset. That evening and the following morning, I held hands with Jesus by the water. I showed Him my heart, and He smiled. He asked me wordlessly for my burdens. I handed them over. And took them back. And handed them over again and took them back again. He didn't get angry with me but kept smiling as He let me place them in His hands yet again.
During her own retreat, St. Faustina wrote, "I must take no heed of the opinion of others, but ... take God to be the witness of all my actions ... For this reason, in every action I must be mindful of God" (Diary, 226). That was why I had come: to be mindful of God so that I could remember who I was, separate from my list of job titles. My days were feverish pursuits of gold stars, but I felt laden with gray dots, most of which I had slapped on myself. And boy did they stick.
As I sat quietly, hand-in-hand with my Lord, He reminded me why He loves me. It's the same reason Eli loves Punchinello: "Because you're mine." During Faustina's retreat, God surprised His betrothed with the gift of knowing "the immensity of the love He already had for [her] before time began" (Diary, 231). Before we opened our eyes or had eyes to open, God loved us, like a mother who loves her child when he does nothing but lie in her arms and let her nurse him, who loved him the same when he slept in her womb, the same when he was only a wish in her prayers.
In a later Wemmick tale, Punchinello tries to think of something he can do or make for Eli, and the woodcarver reminds him, "Just being with you is enough for me."
The Liturgy of Christian Marriage tells us, "Love is man's origin. Love is man's constant calling. Love is his fulfillment in heaven."
Anne Morrow Lindbergh describes this calling as our "desire to be accepted whole ... to be seen as an individual, not as a collection of functions ... to give oneself completely and purposefully."
God fills this desire in me as He filled it in St. Faustina. In the midst of our new lives — mine as a wife, hers as a sister — we would both need to sit every day with our Creator, remembering that no matter how many stars or dots we're tempted to let stick, it is enough to be who we are and to be with Him.
We need our workshop time because, in Anne Morrow Lindbergh's words:
Here, finally and more deeply, woman was whole, not split into a thousand functions. She was able to give herself completely in that hour in worship, in prayer, in communion, and be completely accepted. And in that giving and acceptance she was renewed; the springs were refilled.
May our God who is Love teach us all — man or woman, married, single, or consecrated religious — to play as little children in the sunshine of His love.
Marian Tascio is a writer and English teacher who lives in Yonkers, N.Y.