Rest: Reflections from retreat
“I’m asking God for one thing, only one thing: to live with him in his house my whole life long. I’ll contemplate his beauty; I’ll study at his feet. That’s the only quiet, secure place in a noisy world.” (Psalm 27:4-5 The Message.)
There are people within the CF far more equipped to write on the discipline of retreat, so I write this, not as a theological piece, but as a personal reflection.
In all my reflections and conversations during my time on the Integrated Training Course, one thing became clear over and over again: the need for rest. I wrote about this on more than one occasion. Yet somewhere along the way I ignored God’s guidance (instruction?). So recently I felt a strong urge to again go on retreat. (My wife and I had previously benefitted.)
Being an activist in style, retreat does not come naturally. Margaret Silf, in her book Soul Space: Making a Retreat in the Christian Tradition, comments that people like me can ‘find being alone draining.’ We are people who feel the need to ‘occupy every moment,’ in order to produce tangible results. The idea of simply being and ‘not necessarily to achieve’ comes hard.
So I prepared my agenda, questions I thought were important and that I needed answers to. Over to God to answer my questions.
I spent thirty years in the police and the last few years I specialised in interviewing, advanced cognitive recall, memory theory etc. I became good at it and ended up teaching it at home and abroad. Some of the lessons which seemed obvious were the hardest for people to do; e.g. listen intently to the answers being given, not the ones we want to hear! I used to drive this home repeatedly.
On retreat I discovered how little I had learnt of what I taught. I took with me my questions and my reading material and due to appalling weather read two books in two days.
Read, made notes, asked questions, awaited answers, read, made notes, asked my questions, awaited answers.
Nothing came. It didn’t dawn on this activist that as Joyce Huggett quotes, “Few of us find it easy to believe that ‘when you’re waiting, you’re not doing nothing. You’re doing the most important something there is. You’re allowing your soul to grow up...’ ”
Scripture is full of the command to ‘Listen’. Throughout Isaiah (see 44:1, 55:2). Nature itself is told to listen (Ezekiel 37:4) and Revelation can seem like one of those worship songs which endlessly repeat! ‘...listen to what the Spirit says...’ (2:7, 2:11, 2:17, 2:29, 3:6)
On the last morning we headed for a cold and deserted beach where the two of us shared a flask of hot (non alcoholic) wine and a hot cross bun - our communion meal.
Apart from the wind and the sea, there were no sounds or distractions. In the quiet God spoke. He spoke and told me clearly (and sadly, again) that my life, my activity was such that I could never hear His voice; that I was seeking Him in the storms, the earthquake and fire and, as such, missing His whisper (1 Kings 19: 10-12).
This message was intensified when, walking back to our chalet, I ignored the warnings and found myself walking through a stream!
Back in the warm and dry, I returned to my books and my notes with an attitude (I hope) of listening not asking. I found that my earlier notes answered only one of my questions, but the rest had a theme, which embarrassment precludes me from revealing. I had missed that theme and God had been trying hard to reveal it to me. However, my activity and desire for answers to my questions were blocking His voice. I wondered how long he had been trying to get through!
I know not all activists are like me but, looking more widely, we have never had more time saving gadgets, yet we have much less time. Modernity seems to have brought us science and technology but perhaps the demands they bring can at times outweigh their use.
The mobile phone ringing drowns God’s call; we read emails more readily that His word; the Social Media protest replaces the time of praise.
Max Lucado points out in The Great House of God, that while God never goes on holiday, we are not God. Leisure is the place to enjoy the world God has made, where we experience more of Him not less.
I fail in this so badly myself, but I ask you as an individual: why not, as you read this, say: ‘yes it’s time for retreat, time for no more of my questions, time for God’s and time to listen’. And I say to churches: a minister having no time off might seem heroic, but it is not. Why not insist they have time off – why not pay for a retreat? Oh, and as you walk, watch for streams! They get you wet.