I’m sitting in the driveway, wondering why am I doing this? Why am I leaving my comfortable home, my husband, my gentle life and heading off to a cabin in the woods without heat or light and me with a cold? Why?… I know I’ve done this for 20+ years, but this year it just was so difficult. Why? Why difficult? Why am I doing it?!
Teachers have taught me over the years, when in desolation or doubt, don’t make a decision, stay as you were in good times, clear times. I know the lesson, so okay I will follow it. When life was flowing clearly for me, when all was well, I made the decision to take this week of solitude at The Hermitage. It made perfect sense then so I will go. I am…reluctant but going.
When I arrive, I check in at the centre and then head out to the cabin. I plan to drive out, unload my gear, drive back and then walk out to begin my retreat. The road takes me out over a dirt track and farmer fields. Halfway there, my car gets stuck in a mudhole, really stuck. There is no way I can get out. Is this a sign? Am I simply not meant to bury myself away this year? …. But I’ve been taught…. So I call CAA and a helpful fellow arrives to pull me out, unload my belongings into his truck, drive me near the cabin, drive me back to my car so I can drive back to the centre and walk in.
I do all that. I arrive back at my pile of absolutely necessary items I’ve decided I can’t be without, lug them up to the cabin, open the door and see the cabin with new eyes. It is even smaller than I remember! It really is tiny and doesn’t look like anyone has been here all winter.
But I’m here now. I’m still wondering why, but I’m here. How long the next seven days look to me. Endless. Absolutely endless.
Obviously I don’t have internet, so you won’t get my musing for a while.
A gift of a spring-like day. I can mix my prayer times with gentle walks in the forest and fields, returning to many spots that are friends to me. I especially enjoy the river and its steady flow.
Yes I settle into prayer rhythms and yes, the day still seems incredibly long. A bit of me is still wondering why????
I wake in the night smelling marshmallows. How could that be? I tuck back under my sleeping bag but I’m restless. It’s smoke. The cabin has smoke in the air. Something is wrong. It is a very snug cabin with a woodstove. Somehow the vent on the stove had shifted so it wasn’t drawing. I know I’ll smell like a campfire when I leave here let along wonder about my lungs. Opening the door to air the cabin a cold blast of air hits me. It’s cold outside. ….and why am I here?
Oh… yes. I am here. The ‘shift’ has happened that happens when I go on retreat. I’m slowing down. I’m like, as they say, ‘molasses in January’ on my inside. That is what I said I wanted isn’t it – to slow down, listen to God and then live from what I hear. That was so easy to say in the rapid flow of life, but I experienced such internal resistance to actually coming. Perhaps this week apart is simply that, a practice of slowing down, being more mindful moment by moment of my day. I imagine there will be more, there always is, but that mindful reality is beginning to feel like a gift.
And it’s cold today. And windy.
That evening as I slowly savour my vegetable curry supper I asked myself if I wanted to go home. I’m free to leave any time I want to. There was no question. I’m here now. It seems like a huge task to uproot me and rejoin the racing world right now. I know I will in a few days, but that is days away. Right now, I’m learning slow, slow, SLOW.
As I tuck into bed and look back over my so slow day I realize a lot happened to me during this long, slow day. I recalled all sorts of insights, new ways of seeing things, lines from scripture, moments in prayer to savour. It had been a very full day.
So its -9 C outside my cabin this morning. A fire to start the day and then I gently slip into a retreat rhythm of being very still. I simply do what seems the next thing to do. Woven into the day’s meditation, prayer times, and scripture reading are some household chores with fire, washing, and wood gathering.
My last day at work I’d been preaching on Jesus being led into the wilderness by the Spirit to tempt and test him. That was the assigned reading. It seemed the perfect one for me as I left to go into what feels like a wilderness time for me. I leave all sorts of people and tasks that I thoroughly enjoy and go away. It was suggested that I use the wilderness scriptures as a base for my prayer. I added to that some scripture study on wilderness times and find myself enthralled by reading Exodus and Numbers. Tomorrow… Deuteronomy! I’ve spent time wandering with Israelites in the wilderness, listening to them complain repeatedly about food and comforts. Then I invite Jesus to join me in the wilderness in prayer times. He’s very good company!
I’m learning about what it is like to be in the wilderness.
A busy day. I had to organize myself to get back to the retreat centre to have a Skype check-in with my Spiritual Director. I’ve asked to her to accompany me during my Sabbath Leave. I want someone to share with me my soul journey and to keep an eye me so I don’t stray. I’m experienced enough with retreat life and myself to know there are mudholes out there and more than my car can get trapped in them!
I shared with her that this retreat was markedly different for me. I was very resistant to it. I realized that usually retreats have a recovery aspect for me. I come in tired from life and need a bit of an overhaul. Not this year. I’m not tired or exhausted by life. I’ve had two gentle weeks unwinding from work. This retreat is not about recovery but discovery. I’m coming away to be close to God, and to do that through knowing Jesus in a new way. I knew I wanted to spend time with him as my entry point into prayer. In this new season of my life I need to discover what our relationship is like. As in a marriage when the kids leave home and the parents look at each other again and say so what now…..?! I have that same sense with Jesus….when I pull away from the speed and fullness of life in Sabbath rest, life is quieter now…so who are we together?
Recovery or discovery? What about you? what do you need?
A long and lushes day in solitude, silence and stillness.
I’ve been in the wilderness with the Israelites in Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Again and again they are told to remember their spiritual story and warned that they will forget and wander from what they know. In the wilderness they forget and complain regularly about the menu and how God is not giving them the life they expected. Moses warns them too about all the temptations that lie ahead for them in the Promised Land.
I spend time remembering my spiritual story. It is so good to recall some of the ways I’ve known God present in my life. And then I saw how I forgot God as well. Oh yes. I’m no different than complaining Israel. I’ve been really blessed in this retreat with times of remembering and seeing times of forgetting. I might explore that more with you sometime. Places of Forgetfulness.
And in it all, as with Israel, I know I’m a deeply and dearly loved child of God.
How about you? What is your spiritual story? How has God been present to you in your life? Has the Spirit given you any promises, any plans, any gifts? In what way have you been forgetful?
A preparatory day. I leave tomorrow and since the fields are still muddy I won’t drive my car near to the cabin. I need to carry some of my belongings back to the centre so there is not much for me to carry as I leave mid morning tomorrow.
I sweep, stack wood, pack what food and items I don’t need into my backpack and hike back to the centre. My load is heavy. I’m a slow poke turtle. The wind is chilly. The fields are barren. Except for the mudholes (!) it doesn’t look like spring here. At my final wall before my car I see the first of spring buds I’ve seen this week. Yes. New life is coming. Yes.
I’m at the centre now to write. There is precious power here. I’ll spend the day making a review of my retreat time finding those moments to savour. It will be a time of discovery, a time of thankfulness. I’ve learned over the years that most of what I experience on retreat is not for general sharing. It’s simply too intimate. It’s like any well married couple who share the fruit of their love in the world not the details of how they get there.
I am grateful to my teachers who taught me to not make a decision when full of turmoil, doubt, confusion, or desolation. Stay with the course you set when all was clear. TRUST. Above all TRUST in God’s presence within you, even or especially, when the storms rage. Remember and don’t forget. Hmmmm as humans we are inclined to forget.
Take care of each other
Love and prayers
A Mystic in Motion.