A Spiritual Retreat
September 22, 2009
"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day." ? Jesus (John 6:44).
On the one hand, the spiritual discipline of retreat has long been a natural extension of my personality. I am an introvert, cerebral, contemplative, by nature. As a boy, I would hole up in my bedroom for long, silent hours, sometimes praying, sometimes reading and burning incense, though I did not know it was retreat I was practicing then. Nor could I have named it "retreat" even later when I would go for walks in a grove of trees near my home in order to think. At the time, I simply knew it was something I must do, and that I would be better for it.
I call retreat a "spiritual discipline" because it is. It is absolutely an essential element to maintaining one's spiritual vitality. It is a source of joy and peace in God. It is, I'm convinced, commanded of us.
So, when I went on a seminary retreat to Swan Lake with fellow seminarians and faculty, I wrestled with a combination of excitement and anxiety. There was anticipation that Jesus may acknowledge me from heaven and speak to me in some big or small way, and I would at last better understand what the sound of God's voice is like. There was anxiety in that I feared God may do exactly that ---- break the silence and speak.
It was a time to be vulnerable before Christ. That position can be unnerving. I don't particularly care to have my weaknesses, my doubts, and my faults paraded before me. But this can be part of retreat. It can be healing. Retreat is a study in paradox and mystery.
The theme of this retreat, "rest," anchored in Jesus' call for the heavily burdened, the deeply weary to come to him and find rest and a lighter yoke to carry. I asked myself how I truly could exchange yokes with Jesus? How does someone truly rest in him? I didn't know then, and I'm not sure I'm closer to understanding it now. I truly feel Jesus' call was for me, however, as I can feel my own heavy yokes (built by me mostly), and my own spiritual weariness.
Another text came to mind in conjunction with the text of Jesus' call. The text is Jesus stating, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." It's a powerful text for me. At its center is the holy and just discretion of God deciding which hearts will get turned toward his Son. Was I really such a person? Have I been drawn to Jesus? I've struggled with these questions in the past, and they still have the power to keep me up at night.
The rest of the day-long retreat was trying to figure out how this last text about the Father's drawing connected to Jesus' call to rest. My initial thought is this: Those the Father draws to his Son, he not only draws and calls to salvation, but calls them to rest. His call and drawing of me are not solely for the cleansing of my sins, but are simultaneously a call to unburden myself of my sins, the shame, guilt, the weightiness of the roles I've played and the pressures that mount from living as a son of God in a world hostile to my faith.
I cannot receive one call without the other. If God has called you into a saving relationship with Jesus, he also has called you to rest in him. He has called you from under heavy burdens and from restlessness to rest. They are two aspects of the same call.
I walked away from this day-long retreat contemplating what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus, and not just intellectually assent to facts about his life and teachings. I wanted to know with absolute conviction that I know him and that he knows me.
Was the retreat a success for me? That will be revealed in time. Is leaving with more questions than answers, success?