We would think it bizarre for a traveler not to be prepared for a journey. We would feel pity for the poor traveler who never read his/her itinerary. Which of these hundreds of aircraft is my flight? Usually we have a destination in mind when we set out. It is rare that the journey is the destination. But it is a great feeling to just relax and enjoy the drive without wondering “are we there yet?”
This week Jesus invites us, “come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” There are four different parts to that statement – each one means something on its own: Come away. To a deserted place. All by yourselves. And rest a while.
Some people (surely not any of us) wear a badge of busyness as if it were a badge of honor. “How are things going?” “Well, it’s been pretty crazy, I’ve been busy all day. Not enough time for everything.” The implicit message being: “I’m worthwhile because I’m busy.” But, you and I know it’s not a badge of honor – it a sign of an imbalanced life … Remember the little saying: “all work and no play makes Jill a dull person.” There’s a better one: “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”
Let’s pick apart Jesus’ invitation. Come away, he says. It’s not just “going away,” but it’s “coming away” with Jesus, the one whose yoke is easy, whose burden is light; the embodiment of refreshment. Come away from the daily grind whatever that may be.
To a deserted place. Our retreat director, Abbot Primate Gregory Polan has written: “It is my conviction that monasteries are among the most important places to our world today … what we offer is a warm welcome, whoever you are and whatever your story in life tells; we say, ‘come and be with us and find healing in the Word of God that we offer you’.” During our days of retreat we have the opportunity to recharge our spiritual batteries – to get out of the busyness trenches – to keep company with God.
From the street our grounds are an oasis for world-weary guests. But the seeds we plant must be sown more deeply than the grass. How good would a farm be if the owners only painted the silos and mended the fences? If the farmer never sowed seeds: no veggies, no fruit, no dinner. Retreat is a time to steep ourselves in Scripture and the words of the retreat director, to have a head-conversation with an author you’ve been anxious to meet or take time to get better acquainted with a confrere.
In case you missed it, the invitation Jesus extends to us for this time of retreat is to be “All by yourselves.” Jesus really means it. Thus especially during retreat we foster an environment of quietness and prayer, alone and together in chapel, so that each of us can delve into spiritual practices that “tightened the bonds that bind us ever closer to God and each other.”
And finally, Jesus says: Rest a while. This isn’t laziness. It’s not a perpetual state. It’s temporary. It’s for a while. But, for that while, it’s about rest. We cannot just minister to others day by day, month by month. We won’t be able to take care of others if we don’t make time to cater to ourselves and our own needs. We need to embrace the spiritual practice of rest. And, while some may think you’re a little crazy…you’ll be crazy in all the right ways.
So, how will you prepare for your journey into our annual retreat?
First, forget technology exists – except maybe for some soft, calming music. Use the down-time in the retreat schedule to explore your feelings and get to the core of changes you need to make. Seize the opportunity to enjoy nature, try new exercises physical and spiritual, time to just BE.
The retreat time gives you the excuse to try something different, to step out of your comfort zone and experience something new – to read about, pray about new things, new ways of living, and give yourself options for how you may want to make changes when you get back to “the real world” of everyday. In other words, a retreat can lift you out of a rut and be restorative for body and soul.
During these graced days of retreat let us pray for each other – and for all who will benefit from our “time apart by ourselves.”