Brigitte Reeb, Retreat on the street – madness!!!!!!

Nuremberg, August 2005

Yes, I am sitting here and have no idea where to begin. Like by the Emmaus disciples my heart is burning. I can scarcely bear it. Hence I am also urged to write, although writing is not my special gift.

If I consider it rightly, this retreat began already in the year 2000. There I heard for the first time of it by Juan. I was very curious and interested, however it was clear to me and I said it also to him that such a retreat was never suitable for me! One should never say ’never‘. (When I told Juan in June that I had enrolled, he said only: „I knew always that you would take part.“ Apparently other people know me better than I myself do!?)

So it went on! First I was curious about the tale of Alexander who had taken part two years ago; equally Gabriela had made me very curious. She had extra visited me at home to „recruit“ me. ‚We will see‘, was my answer. So God does want, and God wanted it! Suddenly the date was right, even sufficient vacation was at my disposal, so I was then ready to make an appointment! But I did it of course not before I reinsured myself again by Andrea whether it was really something for me. On my request her answer came promptly. It made the decision easy for me:

      You may do everything; there is no ‚must‘ to do anything (well, in the group discussion one should possibly take part.)
      What also impressed me: everything may stand there so as it is. The fact that nothing is evaluated, nothing is too impious, but is simply there.
    Hence I can only recommend to you the retreat on the street. From the little I got to see from you, and how I experienced you, I can well imagine that it would be something for you.

From that moment everything was O.K. for me. Well, I had fear of my own courage, but I knew, I will go to Nuremberg with fear and absolute uncertainty, but with the readiness to engage fully and completely in what God will give me in these days. And God has given to me so madly much that I can hardly bear it – and to the others too – for us there was in these days only one word, and that was: Madness, madness, madness and again madness!

There had to be told so many things, but I think then a small book would come out. Hence I will try to confine myself to the most substantial things.

At one of the first evenings, when we had shared our experiences, Andrea, the youngest in the group, wished me „liberation“ on my way, and she gave me also my name of God: „God who wants to be close to me.“ – A name that arose from my longings. I have changed it sometime in „God, who is close to me, gives me hope.“

I could do little with „liberation“, but nevertheless this word filled my mind.

On Tuesday, after a confession talk with Christian, he said I should set out, if possible, without money. Without knowing where I should go, I packed my rucksack. First I filled water into bottles, then I thought, so now you will take along also a dry bread, in case you get hungry. Suddenly everything was clear for me, so completely simple: water and bread meant prison for me.

Since I was and am completely without orientation, I asked Juan for assistance. Look, I had damned luck; the prison was direct before the entry door. He explained everything to me, took me into his arm, and said, „Brigitte, go your way.“ Then I set out without knowing what I should do there at all. But it became soon clear to me, when I saw these walls, these limitations. The only thing that I will do is: I will run around this prison, always along the wall, round and round, to feel a little how the people there inside are, who are allowed to be only in this limited area. Yes, then I started, and went always in a circle, past monitoring cameras, workers … – an eternity. On one of these rounds I went past an exit in the direction Pegnitz. The gates opened and a police car drove out. First I wanted to look away, but then I took nevertheless my stand and stared fully at this car.

There sat a man on the back seat looking at me – directly at my face -, and smiling. No offensive smile, no sneer, but a completely friendly smile. I smiled back. Then it was clear to me: here I will for the first time take off my shoes, here is holy ground. With this certainty I continued my rounds, and then at the end – when I was unable to go any longer – I took off my shoes there. I took my stand fully in the visual angle of the monitoring camera, said an Our Father, and then I took off completely slowly my shoes and socks. Subsequently, under longer pursuit by the camera, I went back completely carefully, barefoot into the house. Madness!

On the next day I was drawn again to the prison. I sat down and stared constantly at bared window. There I could recognize someone. I got the idea: there is a human being there above, not a prisoner or a criminal, no, a human being. There I would have to take off my shoes again, the shoes of inequality. Yes, we are all men, whatever life history we carry in us, it makes no difference.

When I told then in the evening in the exchange round about it, and mentioned by the way that I, since the arrival in Nuremberg, had been unable to sleep a single night because of my pain – on this morning even my wrists hurt me – Christian pointed out to me carefully the fact that this pain might be caused not by the bad bed, but perhaps by all the things that were on my mind. I did not believe his explanation! But in that night it fell like scales from my eyes: this urge to visit the prison had above all to do something with me: With my inner prisons, with my chains. Yes, now I understood how imprisoned I was personally – my concerns, my fears. Madness! Starting from this night my pain was clean gone, gone away, away, simply so. Madness!

Now I had the certainty in me that I had no longer to go far away, because I had myself always with me. So I went only once to the prison, in order to say good-bye there.

My place was then by the Pegnitz river, particularly by the water wheel. There too I took off my shoes also several times as thanks for God’s creation, and for the dear people who directed me in these days. I was not free yet, but also not unhappy.

My „liberation“ came then completely unexpected, in a completely simple way, by Andrea who had wished me at the beginning „liberation“. Christian had drawn my attention already in the first days to the fact that there was a connection between us, yes, there were similarities. I could not understand him!

On Friday after breakfast Andrea and I remained still some time sitting. She told about herself, and at once I was able to talk with absolute ease and normality about the things that were deeply locked in my heart, and that in the last years had sometimes robbed me of the air for breathing, yes, even of my joy of life. It was so simple! Madness! The parallels between Andrea and me are actually there. Christian had hit again the nail on the head! Madness!

Yes, all these things became only wholly clear to me by the following Morning Prayer. There I had got it fully. I was only trembling and crying, crying and crying. I could not look at anybody; I could only give my hand to Christian. I do not know how long I was sitting so, but who cares. I will probably never forget in my life the picture which I saw when I opened my eyes. There sat Andrea, who had laid her arm around me, and some entirely dear people of this retreat, and held firmly each others hands. This solidarity was unbelievable. Madness!

After that day I was brutally well, and God continues in making presents to me, and in leading me. It can hardly be understood and borne. God has encompassed me with answers to unresolved questions, yes, with absolute proximity and love, also by the embraces and loving words of the others, as well as with the gift of the laughter, particularly with Laura. Madness!

He has also managed it yet that I, despite of the great difficulties I had with myself, at least internally took off my shoes before myself. Madness!

I want to end with the words of Psalm 139, with which I woke up on the last day:

You enclose me from all sides and put your hand on me.
Too marvellously this knowledge, it is too high, I cannot understand it.