Regina Bernhardt, Street Retreat 2011

Since August 2010, I have been part of a group that meets regularly over the course of two years to get qualified in Spiritual Direction, based on the Ignatian exercises. The course is organized by four dioceses of Central / Northern Germany.

When we met in November, we were told that Saturday afternoon would be a surprise – for which we’d need cars… We only knew that the topic was „Praying with the signs of the time“.

So, when it was Saturday, we were told we’d be sent off to pray – but this time not into a quiet corner or the beautiful meditation room – but right into the center of the city of Hildesheim… To see where we can discover God there – or let ourselves be found by God.. To discover places of meeting God in the city.

This was our first street retreat. It lasted for only two hours – and yet, it made such a big difference for all of us… What a gift it was to listen to each other’s experiences in the evening! I wrote down my own experience the next day:

…The afternoon held new experiences in store for me: We were to practice „Spiritual exercises in the city center“ or „Praying in the city“… We were sent to the city center, without money or credit card or cell phone… My (self-chosen) „mantra“ was „To see Christ in every person“. Wow. I had never spent two hours in a city center „just because“, with no errands to run, no hurry, no shopping… I’d never been that attentive to people on the street before! I walked slowly, I watched people, I prayed for them… The Romanians, owners of a small ride to be built up for the Christmas fair… Sitting on the street, looking dirty… We found no common language… The girl selling apples, not hesitating to give me one for free when I told her I had no money with me… Little baby Ahmed, exactly one month old, sleeping peacefully… Freddy, who, with his mental „handicap“ was the friendliest, happiest, most open of all of them! The woman who comes twice a year from far away to take care of a grave… Marcus, African-American from Mississippi, who couldn’t feel at home any longer in the narrowness of most people’s mentality „back home“… And who is now selling shoes in this cold town in Germany… But who radiates a good mood!

Once I walked past three rather „dark-looking“ men who were drinking alcohol, and I thought, no I do not have to approach them. Just at that time one of the men said loudly: „And you shouldn’t always judge people from the first impression you have of them!“ He did not mean me, he had not even noticed me, I believe, but clearly his words were for me, even without his knowing…
Then I entered a pizza place and asked for a glass of water. The Italian lady who was washing glasses gladly gave me one. For 30 years she’s been living in Germany… I even dared practicing my very limited Italian with her!

And I was surprised to notice so many people who had a hard time walking. Or whose eyes expressed pain. Seeing Christ in them… I was filled with awe and understanding and gratefulness that Christ had not come like a rich king, so I could see Him in them…

And in children’s eyes! These big eyes, still totally open to the world…
And so many people smiled.