Silent Retreat

A few weeks ago, my Spiritual Director invited me to join he and several other Spiritual Directors on a two-day silent retreat. I would serve as one of the Spiritual Directors for the retreatants and get a chance to meet other Directors in the St. Louis Metro area. Not to mention I too would get to participate in this time of silence in community with others!

I gave myself the gift of a silent day retreat a few months ago, but this would be my first one this long. While you can read all sorts of books about the spiritual practices of silence and solitude and listen to podcasts etc., “there is nothing like the real thing”, so they say.

I was very excited and felt like rest was just waiting for me as the time ticked down; and I was so grateful to be running toward some rest! But what became so interesting was how, for the past few weeks as it would come up in conversation that I was busy this particular weekend at a silent retreat, most people curled up their faces and said something along the lines of “that sounds awful” or “I could never do that” or “hard pass!”. As an extrovert, I giggled knowingly at their unanimous distrust of such a thing.

But if I could have your attention for a little bit, I’d like to share with you a few thoughts about why the opportunity to give yourself the gift of a silent retreat is worth considering. (Yes, even for extroverts.)

Everywhere we go as people there are social mores and expectations of us as humans. It is simply polite to look at people’s faces, and perhaps smile or nod to acknowledge their existance in the world. If you go to any kind of social gathering, there is an expectation of mingling, small-talk and polite conversation. Even in our own homes there are exptations from our families and our neighbors.

So imagine a place where you don’t have to do that and no one will think you are rude or unkind or even just grumpy. Imagine a place where all have agreed that they are present for a purpose – and that purpose is to rest, spend time with God and play-alone, but also with others who are committed to the same purpose. There is a freedom from carrying one another’s burdens because the ONE who carries all our burdens is present and getting ALL of our attention for 24-48 hours.

My Director told us at the start of the retreat, “go and waste time with God. If you want to sleep, if you want to go for a hike, if you want to read or walk -whatever it is, do it with God and enjoy.” There was a schedule for the weekend, but everything on it was optional. The only time there was speaking was during a one-hour session with a Spiritual Director.

When and where in life do we get to taste so much freedom? To get away from the demands of home, community and work but to do so in the midst of others who are doing the same thing. Somehow this mysterious sort of unity and warmth is present as you are alongside others seeking the same thing you are seeking. Peace, clarity, rest, refreshment and time to think and feel. If you have ever thought you’d like to just grab the remote and press pause on life for a little bit-this is what that is!

This world is so loud. Rest and sleep are important to our minds, our bodies and our spirit. We could all use a little holy space to do some listening, some praying and some thinking. I can’t help but think that all the outrage we feel about so many things in the world is really because this is what we have omitted from our spiritual lives. We allow everyone to have access to us all the time. We are always reachable and unable to disconnect and recharge ourselves.

Jesus said in Mark 8:34-37, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”

Giving up our own way is not something we are fantastic at doing. But Jesus says that it wins our very souls to give up our way of doing things. Silence is the space where we can ask the question of ourselves, “Am I doing things my way or God’s way?” It is a space to address all those naggy questions that are spiritual in nature and lie just in the back of our hearts and minds, never truly being addressed or given the time to be considered.

Ruth Haley Barton has a whole book on the matter if you are interested in the practicalities of how and what and all that manner of thing. It’s called Invitation to Retreat and I highly recommend it. There is never a great time to go away by the way. Just like vacations and days off, if you schedule a time to “waste time with God” I promise you that the likelihood of something coming up and getting in the way or making it extra difficult to follow through will happen. There is an adversary who does not want you to go and spend time with God. You might just wake up and notice what’s going on all around you and that’s a dangerouse thing!

I came across a Richard Rohr quote this week and it was so intriguing to me. He said, “All problems in America are interpreted today psychologically, but the real solutions are spiritual.”

I sat sort of stunned by this statement. But the more I’ve thought about it this week, the more I am inclined to agree with him. When I run through the list of things in my own life that trouble me, the discoveries I make are spiritual ones.

I became a Christian in my early twenties. While I was raised around faiths I wasn’t raised IN faith or as a part of a faith-based family. So in the early years of discovering Jesus, it was like the answers to all my questions were finally present. It was euphoria!

My first inclination was to switch my major and go to a Christian college because I was SO passionate about God. I knew in my soul that my heart wanted to orient my whole life around God. But that’s not what happened when I wanted it to happen or how I wanted it to happen.

Today, with 20+ years of life in Jesus behind me, my heart is so grateful for the ways God has revealed himself to me. Despite the differences between how I thought He would do it and how he actually did it. I am a Spiritual Director. I get the privilege of listening to others and caring for their souls. It may have taken me 20 years to get here, but when I think about the young me whose heart was so sure about those little seeds within her that were taking root, I can’t help but smile. It took a long time to get to this place.

I opened my own Spiritual Direction practice this summer. It felt so honoring to my little seeds planted so long ago. As I begin the work of meeting people, and sharing with them what Spiritual Direction is and is not, trying to navigate the waters of promoting my business has been awkward and kind of lumpy. This is a service-based job that I am doing. It exists because people have pain, suffering, and questions and they need a place to talk about those things and to explore the spiritual solutions which will heal and soothe and care for their whole selves.

As Christians navigate the gray waters of life in this world and how their faith impacts the decisions and orientations of their lives, where does a believer go for encouragement, support, and care? We are watching deconstruction happen all around us in places of faith. Sin and abuse in others or at the hands of others have left a trail of broken hearts and who will help them?

We have therapists for our psychological needs, but like the Richard Rohr quote that stopped me this week, what about the spiritual solutions? {I do believe in psychological problems too and their need for psychological solutions}

We are not made to navigate these areas alone. There is more theology than I can write in this short post about our deep need for one another in spiritual life. We need safe spaces to ask hard questions, weep and work and walk together in the Spirit.

Here’s one last story. I was at a wedding talking with a woman at our table who I did not know. She asked me what I did for a living and when I told her she (like most people) had a perplexed look on her face. She said, “I don’t know what that means, can you explain it to me?

I said to her, “imagine a person who was trained to walk with you through the spiritual spaces of your life. Someone who understood theology and could talk with you about the things that perplex you about God and this life and what it all means in a way that is uniquely about you, your story, how it fits together, and the special person God made you. Would you want to talk with someone like that?” Her response was “That’s a thing?!”

Yup. That’s a thing.

Jesus told his followers “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

I think that Richard Rohr guy was on to something.

Bandwidth

My family just returned from a week long trip to Alabama for our newer tradition of a bi-annual family reunion. Every two years (since about 2013) we have tried to gather for a week together of reconnection. Our goal is to enjoy one another in playful and restful ways. Watersports and hiking are becoming the norm as we practice this gathering and as the children of the crew become more able-bodied. We’ve tried to meet in the middle of where we all live, which has been Tennesee, Georgia and Alabama thus far.

This year along our way, we stopped in Franklin, TN for a southern meal at Puckett’s. The open mic musician enjoyed teasing us about our destination and how nothing good is in Alabama. While it may not sound noteworthy, it was a lovely week in a big house on a lake with beloved family members.

As we were driving home to St. Louis at the end of the week, my husband and I were listening to a podcast by Annie F Downs (That Sounds Fun!) with one of our favorite authors and speakers, John Eldredge. In Episode 388, they talk about his new book Resilient. One of the discussions centered around a question he asked his staff pre, mid and post pandemic. He asked what kind of reserves they had within themselves, what kind of bandwidth did they possess? Were they doing great with plenty of reserves? Were they doing terrible with low reserves, or somewhere in between those spaces? He asked this question because he wanted his staff to be aware of their own capacities and resiliency and to share in seeing the capacities and limitations of one another.

As I listened and pondered the week that had just passed, I started to think about rest, about my own reserves and my own capacties as I enter my favorite time of the year. This past school year felt challenging, like I squeezed the last bit of effort out that I had in May. Summertime is one of those seasons where I feel our family lives life to the fullest. We soak up eating dinner at weird hours. We cherish what we call “golden hour” as the sun sets in our backyard making everything glow a golden hue. We stay up late, we get up later and we try to connect deeper and more frequently with people. We do projects and we practice different rythms from our school-year, regimented and highly planned out life. I ran towards summer this year and fell into it’s arms with a deep sigh.

Thinking back on how I bounced in a floaty on the lake listening to everyone talk, laugh, swim and take turns on the boat we rented, I realized something. It’s as if summertime fills my tank of reserves that I pull from for the whole rest of the year. Summer is a time we welcome the unforced rythms of play. And the end result is a me who is ready for the schedule, ready for the organized chaos of raising kids, working, and pouring out. Summer is when I pour in.

Summer also has some things I don’t love; it’s not all butterflies and rainbows. But the invitation to lay some things down, to move and live and breathe at a different pace, to sit in a chair and read a book and not make dinner in a timely manner, to sleep a little more, to try a mini adventure or start a movie at 9:00 pm on a week night (scandalous!), these are the things that are outside of my “normal” life that increase my resiliency for the hard things, the sad things, the things that stretch and strain me. It’s a little bit of chaos but it has it’s own flow that I’m eager to dive into when it comes time. Long live summer.

So how are your reserves? What is your bandwidth right now? What is it that releases you from striving and straining and invites you to just be? Can you let summer disrupt you a little?

Almost, Not Yet, Already…

This past Christmas season I was introduced to a song that I fell in love with; it’s entitled “Almost, Not Yet, Already” by Rain for Roots and it is an Advent song.

In the song, the writer imagines herself as a mother and how she relates to Mary as the Mother of the Messiah, the coming King. It’s a powerful and joyful imaginative prayer song that explores the complex nature of our own redemption in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

All things in this world bear the image of our Creator (Romans 1). There is birth, life, death, and resurrection all around us all the time if we will have eyes to see and ears to hear it. I loved how this song didn’t just apply to the season of Advent and Christmas, but to all of life. There is so much in our daily life that bears a present truth, a past truth, and a truth that is to come.

It’s now spring and the season of Lent where I live in the mid-west. The Earth is waking up all around me and as a Christian, I am walking in a season with God’s people where we explore the death of Christ (past truth) and the depths of our own sinfulness (past and present truth) through the season of Lent. But my favorite part of Lent is that Sundays are excluded from any kind of restraint or fasting that might be done on our parts. Sundays are “feast days” where we rejoice in the resurrection (present and future truth!) even though we are choosing to look at our need for it to have occurred at all.

Through this, God is inviting me to think of my own life and season; the things that are true of the past, true of the present and true of the future. I’m almost done with my certificate in Spiritual Direction! I’ve not yet opened my practice, but I’ve already seen God moving me and affirming me in that direction as I have met with my interns/practice directees (clients) for 2 years now! God has planted all kinds of little seeds of faith as I’ve walked forward and as I wait for how and what will unfold.

No matter if you have engaged with the season of Lent in your faith journey before or not, there is an invitation for you from God in this. Our faith journey is not static-it is moving, transforming, journeying and active. There is a past truth, a present truth, and a future truth God invites you to consider with Him.

Almost, not yet, already.

May you take some time today to consider God’s invitation to you on your journey.