On Retreat: Day One

“God doesn’t answer prayers; our prayers are answers to the prayer that God has already started”

The alarm buzzed irritably from the window where I had left it the night prior.  Morning, I thought to myself.  How swiftly we are plucked from the warmth of our beds to greet the day.  Earlier than I would ordinarily rise, I lifted myself out of the warm blankets and began the process of waking up.  There was running to do before class could start, one week left in an extended process of disciplining myself into health.

A brisk run in the fog, a quick shower, and I am back and dressed at the breakfast table, a bowlful of granola and mug of dark coffee in hand.  Morning devotions are at 8:15, and so I am out the door by 7:45, having only once to return to the car for whatever I have left behind.

SFTS is a quick drive from my husbands’ parents’ home, and so it is that I arrive in the parking lot with little trouble and plenty of time to spare.  Settling into the pew, I marvel at how peaceful it feels to sit and to rest in the knowledge that this is retreat time, that I am away from the noise of my life, if only for the briefest moment.  It is praying time, spirit time, reading time, re-charging time.  It is good, and it is well, and it is welcomed.

I must say that I am quite excited about the format of this space—a time to pray and live more fully than I would otherwise in the life of the Gospel Text for next year’s lectionary.  It feels good to dwell in this Scripture, to sit with Matthew, the synoptic with which I am least comfortable, and to let it become a part of my daily rhythm.  To be honest, it almost feels good for me, but more like homemade granola than vitamins or annual exams.  I relish the flavor of it, the diversity of community that has gathered here in the shadow of Mt. Tam, and I hope that here is space that has power, if I but let God have a crack at it.

So I sit in the silence of the chapel, weaving my voice into the melody of the chanted music, entering the mystical space of our worship as it enters me.  I try to focus all of my self and my intentions in the act of prayer, and though it is difficult, it feels good.  It reminds me of conditioning exercise, and I hope that some of it will stick with me when I return to the parish.

Today we speak of lenses and perspectives, of what we see and what has authority, and I am struck by the words of my colleagues.  One speaks of the Scriptures as representing the “arc of human potential,” and of their authority resting in this fact.  I find it intriguing, for certainly it is the case that Scripture offers portraits of the best and the worst that we can offer to God.  It seems meaningful then that these stories hold so much water for us—they are not merely God’s story, but our story as well, and we repeat them in our daily lives, in differing and wildly diverse combinations, with manifold results.  In this sense, the Word is living because we are living it, not only in our extraordinary moments, but in our most mundane.  The Spirit is within us all, it would seem, and the “meaning potential,” as Blount might say, is only as limited as we choose to make it.

That this is the point at which we begin our time together and the entry point for our study and prayer upon the texts is a great blessing to me.  I appreciate that this is a time for deepening relationship with God and Scripture, for open dialogue with willing colleagues, and for intentional devotional space, rather than a race to plan a year’s worth of sermons.  That I may rest rather than write restlessly is a gift, one that I believe more of us pastors need to give ourselves, for it is what we ask of our community, is it not?  That they stop, that they pay attention, and that they respond to the Word that defines us?  And how can we model this for our congregations, if we are not making it a priority for ourselves?

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