Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Retreat (as in quiet time away) (08/01/05)
TITLE: Away Game
By Kathleen Fairman
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Jean,* the owner of an exquisite hideaway of six cabins set in the remote mountains of Montana, was speaking to another cabin guest. Our family had come to the cabins a few days earlier, seeking escape from the summer heat of our home in Arizona. Jean and her husband Bob,* a retired pastor, ran the Montana center, mixing homey welcome with an energetic efficiency that astounded me. Tonight was their weekly fireside Bible study.
“There’s saying the Psalms, and then there’s living the Psalms,” I thought, smiling gratefully as I lifted my eyes to the surrounding mountains and inhaled the pungent mingled scents of damp peat moss, campfire smoke, and toasted marshmallow. Jean and Bob lived the Psalms -- and shared them. Liberally scattered throughout the center were Bibles, devotionals, and plaques, many painted by Jean herself, with Scripture verses reminding us of the One who had created it all. “The heavens are telling the glory of God,” I breathed, “and the firmament proclaims His handiwork.”**
But much as I love the word of God, what captured my heart that evening was the work of God. Around the gentle rhythm of campfire conversation, dusk was falling. The sun’s light softened, first to orange, then to a deep gold that melted into the rising moon. Trees branches creaked as a family of wild turkeys settled in, finding a comfortable spot to spend the night. In a distant forest, an eagle called, perhaps, I imagined, saying a final “good evening” to her mate. Breezes floated across the pond, softly feathering the waters and signaling a coming rain.
I walked over to where Jean was standing, alone now. “You’re too far away from where I live!” I sighed. “I go on personal retreats whenever I can because … because …” My voice faded as I turned my attention to what my children were doing. One of our 11-year-old twin boys was sacrificing marshmallows on long skewers, thrusting them into the fire and gleefully watching them burst into flames. “Burn! Burn!” he shouted in full hearing of all the other guests, pumping his right fist skyward in triumphant emphasis. The other 11-year-old had found a pitchfork and bucket of cold water. For reasons known only to him, he was plunging the pitchfork into hot coals until it glowed red, weaving through a crowd of guests with it, and excitedly studying the steamy explosion that resulted when he dropped it into the bucket. Murmured laughter followed me as I crossed the lawn at breakneck speed to rescue marshmallows, guests, and pitchfork from further trauma. “Double trouble!” one guest chuckled.
Once done, I returned, a little out of breath now, to Jean. “As I was saying,” I continued, “I go on retreats because … ” I glanced again at the children, who were loudly telling riddles to the entire assembly, “well, isn’t it obvious?”
Jean laughed. But later, I realized that I had raised a good question. Retreats aren’t about escaping; they’re about seeking. What do I seek on retreat?
To answer, I think about what I do there. First, there is the simple rhythm of morning and evening prayer, part of the “Daily Office,” as we Anglicans call it. Performed by Christians of nearly every race and nation for centuries, these rituals seem to reach beyond the limits of time and space to connect me to the entire body of Christ. Then there are the books. My favorites are those that teach faithful awareness of God’s eternal sovereignty and love, especially in the face of trials that sometimes seem to swirl around us like storm winds. Finally, and perhaps most important, I read the words of the prophets, because they remind me of the ageless pattern in my life, in yours, probably in every nation’s: We fall away, we are called to return, we fall, we are called -- a relationship with God that stretches in a never-ending ribbon spanning both the beginning and the end of time.
That is what I see, and hear, and feel on retreat. That is what I seek: To look back. To look forward. To be faithful. To be refreshed, like an athlete pausing, mid-contest, for a cup of cool water. To get away from competing voices -- including my own -- and hear only One.
**Psalm 19:1; RSV
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