Monday, August 15, 2011

Retreat: A Place of Privacy or Safety

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
(Psalm 42:2 NIV)

“Possibly the barrier is not time at all. What we are up against is not really the pressure of events, not the many demands on our time, but a stubbornness within ourselves, a hard-heartednenss that will not yield to transformation and change.” (Emilie Griffin, Wilderness Time: A Guide for Spiritual Retreat)

The squeal and swoosh of the school bus brakes have returned to the neighborhood. Just when I was getting into a summer routine, the bell is ringing for classes to start. I am ready to finish my final semester at UM-St. Louis. I am one of those non-traditional students, who late in life decided she wanted her college education after all. As I gather notebooks and textbooks into my backpack, I begin to lament that my unhurried times in the gazebo gazing off into the cosmos of God’s heart will soon be over.

Instead my time will be filled with huge amounts of reading and writing papers, and collaborating with other students on projects to fulfill our requirements. How will I meet with God in the midst of this chaotic pace? It occurs to me that I will have to plan “retreats” during the week. This will take discipline because some days I will be overwhelmed and others just apathetic about anything. These feelings occur on a regular basis, so I want to plan in advance a strategy to ward off complacency.

Thankfully most of my classes start around 11am this semester, giving me more time to linger in the refuge of mornings on the porch or snatched moments of contemplation in the gazebo. This all sound a bit romantic, but sometimes I need to couch my life in these terms to find the adventure and joy of it all.

I like the concept of a retreat because it is an intentional way to escape the pressures of life. Usually when I think of retreat it is a time and place set apart with a group of people to reflect on God and learn more about how He wants me to live out this life. Since I don’t really have time for one of those right now, I want to incorporate the idea of retreat into my regular schedule.

In reading Emilie Griffin’s, Wilderness Time, a book about spiritual retreats, my interest increased in designing personal retreats in the midst of every day, ordinary life. I don’t know where this interest will lead me, but I hope to see some fruit in my personal life, and hopefully extend an invitation in the future for others to design their own personal retreats.

In the meantime, may I encourage you to spend some time thinking about and asking yourself, “When can I meet with God?” And maybe even contemplate why this is a good idea?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Journey: A Day’s Travel

"Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage."
(Psalm 84:5 NIV)

“. . .they relish the spirit of the journey, which is as much about the camaraderie as it is about reaching the intended destination.” (“Great Journey, Great Loop” by Bobbye Kenyon, Boating World magazine)

I love to travel. Planning our next destination is often the topic of conversation, when my husband and I are returning from a trip. We dream about the possibilities. We discuss the benefits of going to certain places during certain times of the year. While trips are fun and exciting at the time, I often come back from a trip a little blue. I miss the freedom from responsibility. The day after a trip I usually want to sleep or feel a great pressure to get something done.

This is where I find myself today, coming off of a great family time at Sunset Bay, NY. Our days included coffee in the morning, meals throughout the day, sunbathing on the beach, playing Pictionary and watching the sunset each evening. Now that I am home, I am back to figuring out my schedule. What do I need to get done before classes start in three weeks? How can I stick to a “one day at a time” philosophy, when it seems so many duties are facing me? Laundry, grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments, catching up with friends and some summer school assignments loom before me.

I’d rather just go back to bed, but the day is calling. We often think of a journey as travelling from place to place, but from its French root word- “jour” there is a sense of daily. To separate the long term journey mindset from the daily journey is not that easy. My romantic side wants to dwell on the great hope of the next destination, but my practical side needs to live in the day. How can I add a little romance to the daily?

I think it comes from realizing that each day has potential for camaraderie with God and others. God’s presence with Moses and the Israelites was a daily reality. The word for journey in Hebrew literally means to "break camp". The Israelites camped out until God initiated the next move. (See Numbers 9:15-23). To be attuned to God’s movement in my life takes paying attention. This takes time, energy and faith. I want to become more and more yielded to his Spirit, and respond with joyful obedience. I don’t know how this looks specifically, anymore than the Israelites probably knew where they would go next. The main thing they knew was that they wanted God’s presence to be in their midst. My ultimate heart’s desire is to be so absorbed with God’s presence that is doesn’t matter if I am in a romantic state of mind or a practical state of mind, but just that I am enjoying His company no matter what life brings my way.