Living our lives on fast forward is great for getting things done, for following through on projects that further our goals, for doing essential ministry. This is great, but ultimately exhausting. Sometimes we need to put our lives on “pause”, and just stop doing everything. One way to do this is to take a Sabbath from the things that keep us tied to our crazy schedule. I try to do this every Sunday afternoon once I finish leading worship with my second congregation. I turn off my cell phone, I don’t get on the computer for anything, I allow the inbox of my email accounts to fill up and I try to do things completely unrelated to my active life. But sometimes, this is not enough because the mere fact that I am still at home means I can’t help but notice the dishes in the sink, the laundry piled in the basement, the lawn that needs to be mowed, etc… The answer? Going on a retreat of some kind.
A retreat is not the same thing as a vacation because the focus is different. Taking a retreat gives us time to ourselves to rest, heal, reflect, and renew. In North American culture, we might succumb to the false notion that we are being “selfish” or “non-productive”, but sometimes we need to wrap ourselves in the cocoon of silence in order to re-emerge with new appreciations, new perspectives. A retreat—even a brief one—is the only way I know of accepting the gift of uninterrupted time for tending our soul, so we have a chance to go deeper within than our busy life normally allows.
We are all different, of course, and some people would not find my idea of a retreat appealing in the least. For me a retreat has to offer quiet, solitude, nature and silence. I prefer rustic settings with access to untouched nature. When it comes to eating, I prefer simple fare so that my senses might reawaken to the simple delight of unadorned tastes. Most importantly, when I can spend time in uninterrupted contemplation, I can more easily hear my own heart and more readily perceive its beating in harmony with God’s heart. Walking in nature, which is always a critical piece of retreat for me, I can attend to the sounds of birds, inhale the aromas of earth, water and grass, and know firsthand that I am part of some larger biological and mystical entity. Through paying closer attention to the myriad songs being sung by all creation around me, I connect with a fundamental truth: God Is.
Free of deadlines, the attachments of relationships or technology, I can allow myself to go into the solitude when I have no choice but to confront my own joy, sorrow, love and fear. I find that by holding fast to the solitude I can choose to either more fully take possession of these things, or surrender them to God as Spirit directs. Life begins to make more sense, and my prayer upon leaving the retreat each time is that I might take just a little piece of the experience home with me, so I can maintain perhaps a little crumb of this “heavenly bread” in the tabernacle of my heart. It doesn’t matter if the retreat is an afternoon or a weekend or a whole week because I know I will always be waiting for me when I arrive there.
I will be on retreat at the abbey on Friday of this week, so if you’re texting or emailing with no response, you’ll understand why. Please hold me prayer as I take the time to enter the solitude, and pray for my Benedictine brothers as well, that their ministry of hospitality might continue for another generation.
Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus,