No matter how much one likes to make plans, life has a way of throwing in a monkey wrench – or five – to throw things off-balance or get things moving in a completely different direction from what one intended. For people of faith, like this scrivener, there comes a point when one must recognize that a brief respite for reconsideration before proceeding is necessary. That point is usually when your spiritual director tells you that you need to get out of town. Now.
So last week when I heard those words, I began to look for a retreat center in the Washington metropolitan area I could go to for the long Columbus Day weekend. Unfortunately, everything within a reasonable distance seemed not only to already be full, but catering to specific issues or groups which would not make sense for me to join even if there were open spaces. Purely by chance, I happened to reach out to some friends who live several hours away, who agreed to put me up for a self-directed retreat weekend.
Apart from my immediate family and a couple of very close friends, I told no one where I was going, and promised that I would stop communicating with the outside world via text messaging, telephone, email, or social media, once I arrived at my destination. This was a promise which, apart from a couple of necessary interactions, I stuck to during my retreat. The result was a combination of reading, writing, prayer, fellowship, and relaxation, which were very much needed after a particularly hectic few months, and with more travel, responsibilities, and events on the immediate horizon.
Regular readers or followers on Twitter know that I put on the Superman suit for the sake of humor and jovial interaction with my followers, to try to get their attention and then keep them engaged, so that they can think about what is transpiring in the world we are living in. In reality of course, I am no superhero. I do my best, and keep firm to a continual purpose of improvement and amendment, though often this gets blanketed under the compelling need to assist others. It also means that I am often too busy doing things for other people to be quiet and listen.
However as the priest I went to for confession during my retreat pointed out, what God has to say to us, when we finally sit down and shut up long enough, is far more interesting than anything we may have to say to Him. If we cannot be quiet, He will eventually make Himself heard, but we may not enjoy how that happens. As C.S. Lewis points out in “The Problem of Pain”, if God whispers to us when we are experiencing pleasure, He shouts to us through our pains. In fact pain, difficulties, sorrow, and so on, are what Lewis calls “His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Admittedly, for many people achieving this kind of silence for anything longer than a minute or two during the day is easier said than done. I can simply lock up the manse and head off for a few days without having to worry about anything. Many of my readers however, have families to care for, and cannot simply disappear for a few days with short notice.
All the more reason, therefore, to actually make plans to make such a getaway, in order to get a chance to hear what God wants to tell you. Planning it in advance, and making it an absolute commitment on your part will bring it about, provided you stick to it. It must be one of those non-negotiable points which everything else must be worked out around. Otherwise, you will find some excuse as to why you may back out at the last moment, doing yourself and those around you no good at all.
In my case, I came away from the experience not fully certain of what turns and intersections are coming up on my path, but more aware of the fact that they are coming, and that now is not the time to chicken out and play it safe. St. Teresa of Jesus, whose feast day was yesterday, wrote that “To have courage for whatever comes in life – everything lies in that.” In my case, that was something that I returned from my retreat focused on, even if I had heard it many times before.
For you, what you take away from such an experience may very well be something completely different, but there is no way you will know, until you just go away.