Catechist and speaker Deborah Gretzinger traveled to River Falls from Green Bay to lead a women’s retreat in preparation for Advent. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

“We’re human be-ings, not human do-ings.”

That foundational concept was shared with about 40 women at the start of a Nov. 9 Advent retreat hosted by St. Bridget’s Church in River Falls. Presenter Deborah Gretzinger, director of religious education at St. Agnes Parish in Green Bay, also led a Lenten retreat at the parish earlier this year.

A veteran educator and catechist, Gretzinger started speaking five years ago. St. Bridget’s Discipleship and Spiritual Growth coordinator Jodie Rubenzer learned of her through the Diocese of Green Bay’s director of evangelization.

After beginning with prayer, Gretzinger dove right into the retreat theme: “Finding God in the Chaos.” She asked participants to share what keeps them busy and then affirmed, “We’re called to a full life. Busy isn’t bad,” but needs to be shot through with meaning and be-ing.

Amidst a culture that celebrates multitasking and a bursting calendar, Gretzinger offered suggestions for finding God.

Finding God

“Step into the sacred before picking up the secular,” she said in regards to making each day count. She suggested starting the day in conversation with God, with transcendent perspective prioritizing the to-do list, as well as ending the day with an examination of conscience.
The catechist-speaker addressed the “time-fillers” that abound and advised, “Be intentional with your time.”

She shared a personal favorite prayer – the Jesus prayer with a breathing exercise that helps to re-focus and re-center. Inhaling as you pray, “Lord Jesus Christ,” exhaling on, “Son of the Living God.” Inhale again, “Have mercy on me,” exhale, “A sinner.”

Live with a sense of God’s blessings, find inspiration in the Beatitudes and love others.
Expanding on loving others, Gretzinger spoke about the importance of physical touch and human beings’ innate need for it. She asked the women to stand up and give those around them a hug, and gave Scriptural examples of how relational Jesus was.

In addition to quality relationships, she added how important a positive attitude is, valuing hard work and finding God in creation and re-creation.

“Think globally, act locally,” Gretzinger said, stating that remembering the blessing we are called to be for others helps to prioritize taking time to fill one’s own cup.

Prayer was mentioned as another aspect, and the ACTS formula shared – the prayer acronym for adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication.

“Pray without ceasing and rejoice always,” she said and explained that prayer is simply conversation with God, building a relationship, with both formal words and spontaneous movements of the heart.

“Don’t keep God separate from what we do. Include and invite him in, even into the chaos,” she said.

After a short break, Gretzinger went more in depth into the idea of inviting God into the chaos focused on the upcoming season of Advent and lessons to be learned from five women in the Bible.

Praying with Advent women

The speaker described Advent as “a season of waiting,” a time “we’re meant to slow down, wait, anticipate.”

After a prayer which included a thanksgiving “for the women in our lives who have played an important role in shaping our faith journey, who taught us to trust and brought us closer to you,” Gretzinger referred to the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew 1:1-17.

She singled out the five women named in the genealogy, apt examples of persons who found their lives in chaos, connecting them with the ideas presented in the first talk.

“Invite them into the chaos to help us invite Jesus into the chaos,” she encouraged.

Each portrait was offered with Scriptural context, an Advent lesson, a unique prayer including the elements of praise-thanks-confession-ask and discussion questions.

Both of the first two women, Tamar (Genesis 38:1-30) and Rahab (Joshua 2, Joshua 6) became part of Jesus’s lineage in unconventional, even “soap opera-like” ways.

“Advent reminds us that there is no chaos too great that our Lord can’t enter into,” Gretzinger affirmed.

“God can transform it. He can transform that drama, transform that chaos for his purposes …. God can use us, too. He can use our chaos. We just need to remember to embrace the sacred and pull him in to the secular.”

The idea of inviting Jesus in was carried throughout each story. Gretzinger acknowledged that this requires taking risks. She invited retreatants to ask themselves where God is asking them to step out and take initiative, to trust in new ways.

Through the stories of Ruth and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11) the presenter highlighted that, even when tempted to get sucked into scandal and confusion, “when we invite God into the chaos, look what amazing events he creates.”

She reviewed, “Four women, four chaotic situations that he’s turned messes into miracles, that led to his son Jesus Christ. If he can do that with some of these stories of the Old Testament, imagine what He can do with us.”

Ending in the New Testament with a reflection on the Virgin Mary, Gretzinger spoke on the number of external chaotic circumstances of Mary’s moment in history and her becoming the Mother of God.

With an engaging style and numerous pop-culture quips, the speaker made Mary’s story relatable and teachable, going through the unbelievable chaos of her life before and with Jesus.

“She gets it, but throughout it all,” the speaker emphasized, “She never stopped believing, she never stopped turning to God. Not once.”

Gretzinger said, “Her whole life was a prayer.”

She went through Mary’s presence in the life of Jesus’s followers after his death up until the present day, in multiple approved apparitions, through which “she still invites us to prayer.”
Mary’s lesson is that “nothing is impossible with God,” Gretzinger summed up.

She invited women to see themselves as blessings, as instruments and to ask Mary to intercede for them, “that we can learn from her that, in spite of the drama, in spite of the chaos we can be like Jesus to the world, we can be disciples in this crazy life.

“We can live our faith, evangelize, tell our stories … we can truly be the women God has created us to be.”