Monday, June 20, 2005

Faith Walk: Chapter 1

This post is part of a series of journal transcriptions from my second retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, KY during May 28 to May 30, 2004.

Friday May 28, 2004 2:40 PM EST
It is a serene, early afternoon as I begin my second retreat at Gethsemani. I have walked to the top of St. Joseph’s Hill across from the entranceway to the Abbey, and I am sitting next to the statue that adorns the hill. Joseph, with the baby Jesus in his arms, looks out over the Abbey, while I gaze out over the rolling Kentucky Hills and miles of countryside. It is a warm, just bordering on hot, humid day with thick billowing clouds rolling over the hills surrounding the Abbey. Although the sun shines through frequently, you can feel rain in the air just waiting for its chance. When the breeze blows during cloud cover, it is cool and almost damp.

Thunder concussions, deep and vibrating, resonate in from the distance, while bright yellow butterflies chase each other above the high grass around me. Swallows skim over the meadows in stunning acrobatics performing their dinner ballet. Farm equipment drones peacefully from outlying fields. As with my first retreat, God has looked at my time line, and He has put me where I need to be on this weekend. I could not foresee where I would be, what decisions would be looming, what frame of mind I would be in six months ago when I booked this retreat. God did.

In October 2003, I made the decision to leave my employer, CIC Global. Things were not looking good, and I was certainly not happy. Therefore, I started the job search process. In December 2003, our owners announced that they were selling CIC. By February, they had a prospective buyer. The prospect, DCSI, was in St. Louis, MO, and I was not part of the deal; my position was redundant. My job search had been futile so far, and I knew I was going to lose this job after a deal was completed. I prayed fervently for God to be involved and to deliver me to a job.

Around March, DCSI brought everyone to St. Louis for interviews, a tour of the company, and a group tour with a realtor. They even invited me, although I had no idea why. Turns out, they had a position they needed to fill, and they thought I might be a viable candidate. The position was Director of Engineering over two departments totaling approximately 23 people. I very much wanted to stay in Nashville, but a good job with a decent company, and a big step forward professionally, would be difficult to refuse. In the following weeks, they brought me, along with my wife and daughter, back to St. Louis for additional interviews, for a management screening test, and to meet with a realtor. I quickly went from being the odd man out to being the envy of the office, as this position seemed to be better than did my co-workers potential positions.

After my family’s return from the professional courtship, I heard nothing from DCSI. This occurred in parallel with another failed opportunity that left me baffled and that shook my confidence. A Director of Engineering over a small development staff at Frigidaire was available in Springfield, TN about 30 minutes north of Nashville. The position was as perfect a match with my resume as one could hope for in a job search. A recruiter working on behalf of the company submitted my resume, but I could not even get a phone interview.

An engineer I had worked with at Chromalox, worked in this group at Frigidaire. He had played politics at Chromalox and had hurt both a very close friend of mine and me. We were his two best friends at work. He used subterfuge to become Engineering Manager even though I had better qualifications, a much longer tenure, and the endorsement of my colleagues. He was eventually fired from Chromalox. He later apologized to me. I told him it was fine and forgiven. I told him that if I had gotten the promotion I would have stayed at Chromalox. Instead, I ended up leaving to start a business, and I eventually signed on full-time with my primary customer, CIC Global. My family and I were much better off financially, and I professionally, with CIC. That whole process enabled my wife to leave her job to be a stay-at-home mother to our newborn daughter. God indeed works in mysterious ways.

I thought everything was fine between us after his apology. The position at Frigidaire was this person’s boss. Whoever got the job, he would report to. After some tenaciousness on my part, the recruiter managed to secure a phone interview for me. The interviewer was trying to fill his former position having just been promoted. The interview went well I thought. We were both Vanderbilt alumni in Electrical Engineering, and we shared several professional colleagues through Belmont University where I had recently received my MBA. The scenario seemed perfect. I never heard back from him after the phone interview, which he concluded on a positive note implying a follow-up visit. I corresponded with him several times in an attempt to understand why the abrupt ending to the process. With me being a local candidate, he had little risk in a personal interview other than time. He never answered any of my voice mails, emails, nor letters. Nor did he ever explain to the recruiter either. A strange situation. I have no idea if my “friend” poisoned the well, but it is difficult not to suspect.

Heading into April 2004, I had no job prospects, not much hope, and termination at CIC Global was pending. I had constantly prayed through this process that the Lord give me the wisdom to discern His will and the strength to execute it.

I am interrupted in my writing at this point by an older gentleman who has walked to the hilltop and has begun talking on his cell phone! After concluding his call, he tells me he has been on retreat before. I guess the silent retreat aspect has eluded him. The retreats at Gethsemani are to be primarily silent. Only a few places are designated for conversation. The hilltop was not one of them. The man cheerfully ignores my silent, but polite, responses and proceeds to engage me in a one-way conversation.

I leave the hill deciding to walk to the statues of the Garden of Gethsemane.[1] As I am walking in the woods, I begin to pray. I try to empty myself asking God to fill me, for the Holy Spirit to fill me. “God, please speak to me and let me know the path you wish me to walk.” Immediately, I feel a sense of peace and gracious emotion. At this moment, I walk around a bend in the path and come upon one of the tablets, icons, and statues that adorn the paths and grounds at Gethsemani. This tablet reads, “Behold I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. Give heed to him and hearken to his voice.” [Exodus 23:20-21] My eyes fill with tears. How can any one not believe in God our Father? If you seek him, he will find you and answer you! I am reminded of a statement by Father Matthew during one his homilies. “Never stop talking to God, and He will never leave you.”

I walk out of the woods into the meadow that surrounds the copse where the statues are located. Bluebirds and gold finches greet me their colors brilliant and vibrant. If you look carefully and quietly, you can find Hummingbirds in the copse edge, which is an impenetrable border of wildflowers. This is truly a place of peace and abiding with God. No one is around now. Thunder still echoes in the distance.

I walk into the copse and up to the statues. Looking at the statue of Jesus praying in agony, my eyes immediately cloud with tears again. I cannot look upon icons like this without emotion since seeing The Passion of Christ.

[1] The statues were donated in honor of a young seminarian who traveled to Alabama during the civil rights movement. Witnessing an escalating argument between a young women and a law enforcement officer who raised his weapon to shoot, he stepped in and took the bullet for her. A plaque at the path entrance to the statues reads: In memory of Jonathon M Daniel. Episcopal seminarian martyred in Alabama Aug. 20, 1965. Donated to the Monastery by William Coolidge of Boston, MA. Walker Hancock sculptor. May we always remember that the Church exists to lead men to Christ in many and varied ways, but it is always the same Christ.


judy thomas said...

Tony, I am enjoying this--keep it up. Judy Thomas

Malia said...

Tony you are a gifted writer of both poetry and prose! I love your descriptions of the birds, the weather, the scenery, everything! I'm looking forward to reading more.

JMG said...

How cool that God gives you that comforting verse right there in that garden!

Do you mind if I use your first two paragraphs here as an example of vivid description for my freshmen writers this fall?

Tony Arnold said...

Thanks everyone for the encouraging posts, it means much to me.

JMG, I am humbled, flattered, and honored that you feel my writing is worth using. Of course you may use it. Wow, I just don't know what to say other than you made my day.


erinlo said...

I usually get bored with long blogs, but this was like a book that I couldn't put down and I feel as if you left us hanging!! I will anxiously wait for your next posting.

Tony Arnold said...

Erin, you are very kind.


jettybetty said...

I am encouraged and challenged by your thoughts!