To retreat. The online dictionary first definition of “retreat” is in military terms: to withdraw from an enemy force as a result of superior power. While I’m not aware of “an enemy force” let alone “superior power,” I am going to withdraw from my day to day life for about a week. I’ll be staying at a Benedictine Monastery in Northwest Missouri. As there is no separate retreat house, I’ll be staying on the Monastery grounds as a friend of the Community. I’m looking forward to participating in the rhythm of prayer throughout the day: chanting psalms, singing hymns, and sharing quiet reflection. I also look forward to long walks on the spacious grounds of the monastery. It’s a beautiful place of solitude in the rolling farmland.
One of my Buddhist friends asked if this would be a silent retreat. I understood her frame of reference, but this will be far from a silent retreat. I’ll join in meals and visit with the women who have dedicated their lives to following the monastic tradition of Benedict the Great. He’s known as the father of Western Christian monasticism. Benedict understood the life of a monk to be a balance of work and prayer. As I visit with the members of this monastery, I’m sure that the common topics of conversation will be the spiritual life and what that means to live with reverence in this era of turmoil throughout the world.
Rather than being like a Buddhist silent retreat, I think my time will be more like my understanding of the observance of Jewish Sabbath. A few years ago, I spoke with one of my students about her Sabbath observance. She attended a couple of courses I taught on research in psychology which were scheduled from a Thursday to a Sunday. Because of her religious practice as an Orthodox Jew, she could not attend the Saturday sessions. I asked if she just stayed in the hotel room. She explained that her mother traveled with her to the conference location. After class Friday, they drove to an area where they knew there was an Orthodox community and stayed there. They attended Shabbat service and were invited to join another family for dinner. Saturday, they stayed where they lodged and visited with each other, talked and prayed. She told me that she was thankful for the Sabbath rest, the time for prayer and sharing with her mother, and, most of all, time to be thankful. She explained that Sabbath for her was a time to be thankful for life. She went on to explain that life is the most precious gift we have.
As I think of my own time of retreat, perhaps it’s best to think of this as a week of Sabbath rest. It’s a time for prayer and contemplation, for reflective conversations, and most importantly, a time for gratitude. In the midst of daily responsibilities, it’s easy to forget to just be thankful for each moment of our lives. Yet, our lives are the most precious gift we have received. Truly, just to be alive is something for which we can all give thanks.
(Photo: Monastery of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adora, Clyde, Missouri. http://benedictinesisters.org/)
© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.