The Paradox Of Retreat

In military terms, a retreat is the decision for an army to withdraw because they’re losing a battle. In Evangelical church circles, a retreat is a weekend packed to the rafters with activity, teaching and relationship-building.

Jesus often retreated from the go-go-go of his ministry to seek his Father in solitude. Solitude was the life-giving marrow of his ministry as the Spirit shaping his communion with the Father. His withdrawl into retreat was an advance for him. Solitude was not about frantic activity filled with people and doing. Retreat for Jesus was a going away in order to be, not to do. Retreat was where he could simply be beloved.

A retreat is a little bit for me like fasting. When I’ve fasted, it never fails to amaze me about how how much airtime my brain devotes to whatever it is from which I’m abstaining. I have planned Thanksgiving dinners in May when I’m fasting from food.  When I’ve chosen to pack a bag and spend a day or two at a retreat center in silence, I discover the same sort of thing about my relationships with others and with God. There is a lot of racket going on in my brain most of the time. It sounds like the kaBANG kaBANG of a washing machine on the spin cycle with 13 pairs of dirty Chuck Taylors in it. When I start getting a little too aware of how anxious I am not to feel lonely (and this time of year is almost always an especially lonely one for me), it is just like Jesus to invite extraverted me into solitude instead of a party.

Heading away into a time of silence makes me realize how deafened I’ve become to that kaBANG, and how much I miss the sound of the Lord’s still, small voice. I also realize my own temptation to find a bit too much of my worth in the things fill my daily dance card. When I am too much a human doing to be a human being, it’s time to retreat. I was too busy to take some retreat time until I realized I was too busy not to do so.

My long-time prayer partner and I have led several small groups in guided silent retreats over the years, and those have been rich and wonderful times. But the past couple of days, the two of us headed to the brand new retreat space at the Siena Center, just north of Racine, WI. Lots of silence, punctuated with companionable prayer and meaningful conversation as we shared our simple meals in the room next to the gray-haired nuns who live there, reminded me again that grace indeed has a rhythm that can best be heard in silence.
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