Today is Thursday and it reminded me that two months ago today, I went on my annual retreat. It’s an annual escape where we meet, greet, eat, and retreat. I mean RETREAT. Silence, please. We stop talking on Thursday night and don’t talk again until Sunday supper. It’s kind of sensory deprivation and spiritual overload.
The silence, as they say, can be deafening. The idea is to be alone with God. And 60 other guys doing the same thing. But, that’s why he’s God. He can listen to us individually and still pay attention to those other 60 guys.
Yeah, it’s a guy thing. That is, it’s a thing that’s only for guys. At least at this particular spot. It’s run by the Jesuits and it’s a retreat center just east of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. They do men’s retreats almost every weekend and mine is in mid-September.
It really is an exercise in introspection, retrospection, expectation. It’s time to retire, rethink, relive, remember, reorganize, rearrange, and be religious. Now THAT’S a retreat. As they say during orientation, retreat is a military term that doesn’t mean “turnaround and go the other way.” It means to stop, rest, take a look around, assess and then decide what to do. I don’t know if that’s the idea that Sun Tzu or General Patton really had in mind when THEY said “Retreat!” But, it sounds good when they’re explaining the whole idea of making a retreat.
That’s right—making a retreat. The priest that’s there for the weekend to lead the process isn’t going to give you a retreat; you’re going to make one. It’s up to YOU. Because God doesn’t like to shout through the distractions (who does?), they pull all the input plugs. No radio, TV, newspaper, telephone, computers, internet, mp3 players, tablets, or smartphones. Disconnect, disengage, and discover.
There are no distractions, no worries. Just listen, think, contemplate, and pray. Ask God to help you. Consider those things in your life that you wouldn’t want to spray paint on an overpass and what you might like to do about them. Don’t come programmed. Don’t tell yourself “This time on my retreat, I’m going to think about my marriage.” Or my kids, or my job, or my weight, or bad habits. Just listen to what they have to say, think about what God might have to say, consider what you need to do, and get ready to do it. Just wait and see what bubbles to the surface. Something always does.
It’s amazing what a little quiet can do. Actually, it’s a LOT of quiet. A whole lot of quiet. 3 days of quiet. If you can’t hear God talking to you under those circumstances, you’re not listening, my friend. Because, every year, God does a little whispering in MY ear. And every year, I wind up doing one of the things that they warn you about. Don’t try to go out and change the world in a couple of days when you leave this wonderful womb. Because the rest of the world doesn’t know where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing, or how profound you found the experience. They want to know why they’ve been getting your voice mail since Thursday afternoon and why you haven’t answered the e-mails overflowing your Inbox. Welcome back, Jack, to the real world where we don’t ring bells at assembly time or turn out the yard lights so you’ll get some sleep. We may tell you how to think but it won’t be based on scripture.
So, you take the hard-won enlightenment that you worked out with God over the weekend and try to extend the serenity and live the lessons you learned. It’s a fascinating, calming, and cleansing experience.