Sitting on the porch at dawn
Watching the mist rise from the river
Shrouding the opposite shore in mystery,
I am healed by a chorus of birds
Knowing to sing their own song.
I am filled with awe
At the perfection of life,
And can’t help but feel
As beautifully clothed
As the lilies of the field.
And if those lilies
Are so beautifully cared for,
While struggling and toiling not,
Then why do I ever doubt
That the same grace
Would not be extended to me?
~ JLS, May 20, 2011
I arrived on retreat as I always do – overworked, overtired, overly stressed, believing I didn’t have time for the luxury of this retreat. But as soon as I walked over to the little hermitage that would be my home for the next five days, looked out at the expanse of Hudson River, saw green all around me and heard nothing but birds, I knew I was just where I needed to be – even though logic kept telling me I should be somewhere else.
I began my retreat as I usually do, wanting to do it all, not knowing where to begin. Nap? Meditate? Read? Take a walk? All seemed equally as delicious as I surveyed this planned gift of time.
The watch went away. The phone got turned off. The computer was put under the bed. And then it was just me – with nothing I needed to do. The choice felt overwhelming.
But gradually I shifted from doing to being, dictated not by the pressing demands of life, but by the urging of my heart. And even though my life is one devoted to the pursuit of spiritual things, they, too, create a busyness of their own. One more reason I am committed to taking myself on a seasonal retreat – even though the timing never feels right.
But the timing is always right. Because even though my days are governed by spiritual practice and spirit-filled work, my penchant for busyness seems to override the soft and still voice that I seek every morning before I begin my day. Slowly, but surely, without even being aware that it’s happening, I gradually become pulled off course, just a bit, but enough that it becomes another voice that I hear. The voice of “shoulds,” “musts,” “obligations,” “responsibilities,” an artificial list defining my notion of success. I begin to forget my desire to cultivate the art of surrender, choosing instead to grasp at the demands of schedules and man-made needs. I give up my loyalty to a guidance I cannot see, displaying allegiance to a different god – a god dictated by logic and demands of the world.
As I slowly get pulled off course, so imperceptibly that I cannot even see it has occurred, I forget that I’m the whole, healthy, and complete being that I am, and I begin to see myself through the jaded eyes of one who has yet to arrive. I see all my faults, all my fears, all my worries, doubts, and shortcomings. And so, I show up on retreat with the plea to be “fixed,” to find my answers, to feel whole once again. And I pray, and I meditate, and I write – lamenting on my brokenness and my yearning to be complete.
But somehow on each retreat, in between the naps, the meditation, the walking, the sitting, the writing, and the time to just be, a subtle shift occurs, equally as imperceptibly as the shift that brought me here. Once again, I feel the wholeness that is me. I feel my connection to the Divine. I feel the perfection and the safety of my world. I believe that I am indeed loved, protected, and safe. And then I feel shamed with the knowingness of all that I have, and so often fail to see.
When I became ordained, I made a vow to retreat from the world for one week every season, because I intuitively knew that the world is a strong master, one I easily listen to, and one that insistently calls my name. That softer voice doesn’t call to me with as much urgency. It has a patience that waits to be found. And it will wait for a very long time until I remember to look.
I’m returning to my world strengthened, rejuvenated, reborn into wholeness. I’ve remembered the joy to be found in my world, and the power that comes from looking within to then celebrate without. But I also suspect that with the passing of the days to come, the certainty I feel right now will begin to wane, so slowly that I don’t even notice it’s passing, as once again, I start to listen to the insistent calls of my predilection to achieve. But I’ve left this retreat with a safety net in place – my summer retreat already scheduled and paid for in advance.
We all have our unique ways for remembering that which we undeniably know. That which was imprinted deep within our hearts before the world taught us otherwise. May each one of you be led to discovering your own rituals of rebirth, ones that allow you to feel at home while reminding you that angels can fly.