Issue 320 - Fifty-One Days

June 2024

An interview on TV recently started us thinking about transformations and transitions that take place in 51 days. The interviewee talked about his prison experience in solitary confinement and how that changed him.


Fifty one days can be an awful long time. Or 51 days might feel like the speed of light, which is unfathomable to the human mind, at 186,000 miles per second. The interviewee related his experience as:

“Fifty one days of solitary confinement changes anyone and everyone, when you start to learn to live in your own head, which is a dangerous place for anyone.”

Solitary confinement can be a blessing or a curse. For inmates, extended aloneness can be dangerous. During my 7 years as jail chaplain, I witnessed transformations, both beneficial and disastrous. One of the first strategies in intentional transformation is neutralization of possible triggers for past behavior. Neutralized first in incarceration are the senses: same sights, same smells, same sounds, same routine; same everything external. And so, the internal, we might say “one’s interior,” is dangerously threatened. A radical internal transformation will mean giving up one’s perceived wants, needs, and desires. Fifty one days or possibly more is required for this kind of turnaround.

Forty days is frequently mentioned in Scripture to suggest a life transformation. Forty days of rain to bring Noah and his ark passengers to a place of new beginning. Forty days that Moses was on Mr. Sinai before bringing the Ten Commandments to a faltering nation. Forty days Jesus was in the desert before he began his ministry of conversion. During the forty days from Pentecost to the Ascension, the risen and glorified Christ preached of God’s Kingdom, the ultimate transformation.

For the nearly forty years I practiced Spiritual Direction, I frequently was called upon to lead the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, a 30-day retreat program. There are several formats, but the classic presentation is for a ‘closed retreat’, 30 days in solitude at a retreat center. Most Directees experience a transformation with clarity, listening to God’s direction for their future life.

We might consider: If I had an extended number of days for solitude, what would I do with it? Would I reject it out of fear that it would be too dangerous? Would I welcome it as an opportunity for transformation, a blessed relationship with the Triune God? Or will I simply continue my current routine for the next 51 days in mindless meandering?

--by Jan

Photo attribution: © rawpixel, 123RF Free Images


Cottage at Villa de San Antonio

Fifty-one days: seven weeks, with some spare change thrown in. That is the amount of time from the June 10 to July 31. By the end of these few days, we will have moved to our new home.

During these few days, we will dispose of furniture we have had for decades, and of family heirlooms passed down through generations. I will get rid of books and files that have accompanied me not only from state to state, but also continent to continent. (I lived in Germany in the late 1980s).

We both look forward to living in an independent living cottage at Villa de San Antonio, a local senior living community. After our first visit there, we both said, “We’ve found our new home!” But there is much to leave behind.

Coincidentally, we just started reading together Michael Casey’s book, Grace: On the Journey to God. The title of his first chapter is “The Grace of Discontinuity.” I think I need to hear this! Casey reminds us that Jesus’ first disciples had to leave behind their nets and their boats in order to follow Jesus into an unknown future.

I recall a sermon I heard nearly fifty years ago and have never forgotten. The preacher talked about the difference between praying with clinched fists and praying with open hands. To open our hands to receive new blessings, the preacher said, we must first release our grip on what we already hold.

The Grace of Discontinuity. I pray that Jan and I may be blessed abundantly with that grace over the next 51 days.

-- by Bill

Prayer-song for Transformation

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