As the weather warms up it occurs to me that I see more advertisements for retreats and retreat-like activities.  The spa area heats up along with their marketing themes where customers can choose any number of health and relaxation techniques, from mud baths, to sitting in a Medieval mine breathing in the unpolluted and pollen free air, that may or may not have a good dose of Radon with it.

The current issue of the Church Times has a focus on retreat as a practice that has spurred me on to write this short reflection.  Truth be told, I am a poor “retreatant” because, although I realize the importance of retreats and at times lead retreats, I rarely seem to make retreats possible for myself.  Retreats were once a mandatory practice for clergy, and I have managed to spend time with some very good retreat leaders.  Some bishops maintain that clergy, in deed all people, benefit from a yearly retreat.  I found that where difficulties arose in this practice is that one might go off somewhere to have a nice relaxing retreat only to leave a spouse and children behind feeling more frazzled than before.  Retreats were nice, but the benefits were quickly undone.

Today I spent two hours sitting on a bench next to a small river.  The experience was emotional and spiritual, but was it a retreat? My own thought is that it was more a game of waiting as I am so tightly controlled by time and the feeling that I should really be doing something productive.  Sitting by the river did not feel productive.  When I give more though and reflection to this short interlude in my day I realize the trap that I, and others, have fallen into.  Namely, that we must somehow produce something in order to have any worth.  That I gain my being by Works rather than Grace.  Sounds familiar.

As I sat and watched a terrific amount of water flow past, I also noticed things that I would not have otherwise if I had not simply sat and done nothing.  The birds sing and fly high up in the tree tops. An industrious ant persisted in climbing up my arm despite repeated removal.  The bench felt incredibly uncomfortable like it was designed to ensure that nobody would loiter more than a few minutes.  Animals started to creep out of their hiding places once I became part of the scenery.

One of my favourite books is “The Wind in the Willows” and for good reason I was reminded of it today as the low tree branches dangled in the rushing water.  In this book, some of the characters embody, for me, my own behaviours around retreat.  At times I am like Rat who likes to lay back in his boat and let the river take him where it wills.  Yet in the next moment I can be like Toad, filled with distraction because of a “put-putting” of an electric bicycle that motors past me.  So to, can I feel like Badger when one group of walkers has past me for the third time – that I am not really contributing to something, or some purpose.  I have not clocked a new time around the course, nor have I improved my Nordic Walking posture.  Eventually, as these different moods and characters go on, I am left feeling a bit like Mole.  Like I have just emerged from the deep dark ground to be surprised with the light, the sounds, the actions, the feelings, the newness. The wonder of it all.

Retreats are good for the soul, even the smaller ones when one can afford the time of an hour or two watching the river flow past.

Everyday of the Week

Having now met a great number of people in Anglican Church Freiburg (ACF) I realize that many of these faithful people are also busy people.  Busy with work, family, and changing circumstances.  There are many activities that happen throughout the week for all of us, but what is it that keeps us truly together when we are apart?  I think this is prayer.

Often there is the temptation to feel that by doing something we are being active and productive.  Yet, when we are the most busy it is good to spend more time in prayer.  Ha! you say.  How does one make more time to pray when already the day seems to slip past so quickly.  I realize myself, that it is close to midnight as I type this out, but as soon as this is sent I will gather my thoughts into the ancient worship service called Compline.  It is a quiet and contemplative prayer that marks the completion of the day and prepares one for sleep.  The prayer helps me to set aside all that has been part of the ‘doing’ and allows me to simply fall into ‘being’.

How then does a growing parish with many lively activities during the week support itself? Perhaps it is not so much in the ‘doing’ that marks productivity, rather the quality of ‘being’ that is important.  As always the doing and being issues arise as they did for Martha and Mary.  I like to think of both aspects of our lives as life giving, just as one cannot hold one’s breath – breathing in and out is much like doing and being – part of a life-giving system.

My prayer, this night, if for the family I wait for.  For the people I have met today.  For the kindness of new friends. For the people who go unnoticed quietly working away for the kingdom of God.  For those who offer themselves in gracious ways to communities of people in need.  For those who feel that the day has been spent doing so much and yet they see so little accomplished, that they not grow weary.  For those who want to be more with God despite the chaos in their lives.  For the grace of God to let go of the things that we cannot change, and the sleep which will come, once we learn to put both the ‘doing’ and the ‘being’, into God’s hands.