Just this past weekend, Tricia and I had the privilege of leading someone on a Listening in Christ Immersion Retreat at the Center For Renewal Retreat House on the lovely, pastoral grounds of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Simsbury, CT. ( http://cpcbarn.org/wordpress/)
For me and our retreatant, it was a return: she to her second retreat, and I to my "old stomping grounds" where we'd led retreats for groups and individuals for 20 years before coming to Northampton. Tricia and I also lived at the Retreat House, raised our family there, and were members of the church. Tricia had been back a couple of times prior to lead Listening in Christ Retreats for Women. I'd not.
I have to say just being in that still space on those grounds set aside to gently help people seek God, pray, contemplate, refresh, heal, or renew spiritually was an unbinding and freeing experience for my soul. It was as if I found again something I'd lost or inadvertently let go of. In a weird way, I felt home again. I was found and embraced by the place. And not merely because it was our family home for 20 years, or that it looked just as it had when we left -- it didn't. The feeling was deeply existential. I was returning to an essential piece of me, of my spiritual life and sensibility. A large part of my being knows itself most freely and intimately in the contemplative setting where the "unforced rhythms of grace," (borrowing a phrase from Eugene Peterson's The Message) deny the world's frantic slavery to "hurry up" and "have it all."
I'm not made for "hurry up" and "have it all," . . . never have been. In fact, when I allow myself to open to its vain imaginings, I disappear spiritually. When I disappear spiritually, I'm irritable, impulsive and disoriented, as if my spiritual moorings have been tossed off, and I'm on a fast wave to nowhere.
I know full well God has made me to feel most at home in the calm and quiet spaces of life, especially when nature has center stage, reflecting God's beauty, creativity, majesty and grace. Growing up in the open spaces of New Mexico where the vistas are long and wide, and the pace used to be slow, I immersed in a southwestern groove. Droppin' by and settin' a spell with my musician friends was normal. It suited my temperament perfectly, still does.
While the property surrounding the CFR Retreat House is in the middle of suburbia, it had been a dairy farm until the mid-60's when became a church-hence the nickname "The BARN.". It is 40 acres with a full view of the traprock hills on the western horizon, open fields of high grass, lush surrounding woods, and a babbling brook traversing it's southern boundary. The pace is generally relaxed, retreat-like. This rhythm offers room to breathe, listen and reflect. And God gave the space for such purposes. His presence is felt there even by folks who don't know him.
The easy flow of the retreat, the natural beauty awash in "let there be life," and the palpable sense of peace gave me sharp contrast to the beaten up mental/spiritual state I'd been in the last 2-3 weeks. Tricia mentioned, more than once, I was not myself, and I wasn't. I felt anxious, really disoriented, and tentative about my life and work. My state of mind was disturbingly uncomfortable, but I also felt detached from the true me. There were reasons for feeling so, but I couldn't detach and get perspective. I was slowly sinking to the bottom.
Being at the CFR and hearing God gave me a view of where I'd drifted because the responsibilities I have. I realize I have adjustments to make with how I spend my days, and what I give my best to. I have to restore spiritual and missional balance to how I work or I'll disappear inside. So, I'll make more time for being alone -- and frequently -- with God. I'll make more time for reflection and prayer.I'll strive less and let God build the work as it pleases him. Others need to carry more of the load or we need to reduce it together.
The "unforced rhythms of grace" which uplift and sustain me will restore equilibrium for the mission I accepted 5 years ago. My eyes were opened by the Holy Spirit this weekend; time to let go and let God. I've seen it what he does with folks on our retreats. We just set the stage. He opens their ears and the eyes of their hearts. He can do it in Northampton on the streets as well. So I need to pray, listen, reflect and settle.
The urgency I feel must be balanced with persisting parentheses of sojourning with God all the time. Holding everything loosely. Noting when I'm being forced to respond or take initiative, but not from God. Keeping my mouth shut as much or more than speaking. Listening to actually hear. Taking notes. Asking questions more than declaring or expositing.
Not having answers.
Letting others carry the load; not assuming I should.
Enjoying God and his Presence frequently.
Taking time to notice.
. . . I feel peace about this, even a smile.