Welcome to your Take Five Monthly Meditation. This month’s theme is “Retreat and Refresh.”
Let’s begin with something to help us settle in. A friend of mine shared this story with me.
A few summers ago, I was on a team that was running a weekend retreat for men, and I was on kitchen duty. The setting was rustic and the kitchen primitive. We made meals using the few available utensils and a couple of propane rings to cook on.
While other team members were enjoying interacting with the men and generally having a great time, I was struggling just to make a pot of oatmeal, a vat of spaghetti, or something that resembled coffee. I found myself getting more and more angry as the weekend went on.
A friend who was on the team walked into the kitchen late Saturday afternoon and said, “Come with me. We need to get something from town.” I figured we were off to get more kitchen supplies, so I grumbled agreement and left with him, glad, at least, for a short break from the sweltering kitchen.
We went into town and my friend pulled into an A&W drive-in. “You look like you could use a root beer float,” he said. I didn’t argue. We sat in the shade enjoying our drinks. I calmed down enough to see how well the weekend was going for the men we were there to serve. I was able to hear the thanks my friend offered for tackling kitchen detail for 60 men. I found new strength to get back to the work with energy and even a touch of joy. And gratitude began to flow like a stream in my heart.
Sometimes it doesn’t take much to help a blind man see and for streams to flow in the desert.
Let’s move more deeply into our theme, “Retreat and Refresh,” with a reflection on the value of seeking out a retreat.
We’ve all heard people say things like, "Oh, that's my little retreat; it's where I go to get away from it all." They may be referring to their workshop, the corner of a room, or even their car where they have their own private space. It's a quiet place to settle down and regroup. We need a place like that in our hard-driving culture because, as one jokester said, we invented the rocking chair so we could keep moving even when we’re sitting!
A friend tells me he creates a wildflower meadow in his mind whenever his boss is scowling at him. Another friend says she does "mini-retreats" in order to go to a place where she can go to hear herself not think.
The truth is that we all need such places—a place apart from the hustle and bustle. A little retreat. It's a place where we can go just to "be" and not to "do." For most of us, it’s a place where we can make ourselves unavailable for a while—retreating f rom the phone, the job, the urgencies of everyday life.
On a spiritual level, we retreat by making ourselves unavailable to everything and everyone except God. On retreat we choose to rest in God's love. When we empty our hearts and minds, and it's so quiet we can hear ourselves "not think," it is then that we can begin to hear what God thinks.
Scripture encourages us repeatedly to retreat—to become tranquil and listen with our hearts to God. In the Book of Isaiah, God invites us to "Listen to me in silence." In the Gospel of Mark, we learn that Jesus "rose long before daybreak and went out alone in the wilderness to pray." And in the Book of Samuel, we are called to a radical availability and attentiveness to God: to be like Samuel and lie awake in the night listening for Eli's call.
So where shall we go and what shall we do—or not do—on a retreat? The means and methods are many and varied. Lying awake at night and listening to God may not sound like much of a retreat. And "retreating" on a family vacation may work, but only if we build in enough down time for everyone. A surer option may be to sign up and go to an actual retreat center. These places specialize in down time, worship time, personal prayer time, reflection time.
Simpler, stay-at-home retreats can also be spiritually renewing and refreshing. You can take a one-hour walking meditation around the neighborhood, or go to your room with a Bible or other holy book. You may want to light a candle, play soft music, have a cross or icon or crucifix nearby. Committing to such a practice is the main thing, setting aside a place and time to enter into the presence of God.
Once in a while, it is good to turn down the lights, the volume, the throttle, the invitations. Less really can be more.
It is only in getting away from your present situation that you can really look at things objectively; you can then examine the ideals you want to work toward and compare them to the present reality.
On retreat, you allow God to do the work for you. You can ask God:
• to guide you in your personal concerns.
• to grant you much-needed rest and relaxation.
• to help you solve a problem.
• to renew—or set for the first time—some life goals.
In many ways, of course, a retreat is a selfish thing—as it should be. But it is only in taking time for yourself that you get to the issues that really matter in your life. And on retreat—whether you define it as a formal retreat or any of a hundred informal types of retreat—you can quiet down enough to truly hear God call your name.
Let’s continue our brief reflection this month with a meditation that moves us forward.
Often, we respond reflexively not to what is most important in life but to the latest signal, beep, buzz, or ringtone to impinge upon our consciousness. There has been, almost from the beginning of Christianity, a way of following Christ that draws the believer away from busyness, away from noise, away from the sense stimulation that we are addicted to. Few of us have a desert at our disposal where we can retreat and listen to the still, small voice of God, but perhaps there is a park, a rooftop, a chapel, a parked car with the radio off that can offer a chance for contemplation, for quietly considering the things that really matter.
Retreats come in all shapes and sizes: individual or group, programmed or unstructured, a day or a weekend or a week. You can use them to get back in touch with what's most important spiritually or just to get some rest. Going on a retreat, though, doesn't have to mean blocking out time, making a reservation, and hitting the road. One retreat you can always make is the one in the silence of your heart.
As Psalm 62:5 says, “For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him." Wherever you are, why not take a few minutes today and every day to stop what you're doing, clear your mind, and place yourself in the silence of God. Take a quiet moment now, with God.
We’ll close our reflection with this month’s “Scripture to Live By,” which comes from the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 6, verse 31:
And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest awhile.”
This concludes our Take Five Monthly Meditation, “Retreat and Refresh.” We hope you have enjoyed it and we welcome your comments and feedback. You can find us at TakeFiveforFaith.com or on Facebook. Thank you for joining us this month and have a blessed day!