"Was the retreat everything you expected?" the bookkeeper inquired as I settled my account.
What had I expected? My goal was to have a quiet break away. Have time to breathe. To think. To detox. Look forward. Hear God's voice.
Yes. Most of all.
To hear God.
As I drove out from Calgary, I resisted the habitual urge to speed. After all, I'm going to a retreat. There's no hurry about being quiet.
I had a delicious lunch and then explored. I walked through the prayer Labyrinth, then detoured to "The Emmaus Road" which wandered through the forest at the top of the hill. A number of stations allowed me to sit, read and reflect in guided meditation. At the end was a small chapel with Bible open on the altar. I picked up the scripture and read "The will of the Lord is..."
The message was clear. God needed no translator. No lightening bolt. No earthquake. It had been there all this time. I just needed my eyes open to see it. My ears unplugged. My heart open.
The gentle trickle of the desktop fountain blends against muffled footsteps (we all wear slippers) and clanging dishes (meals are provided). My ankle throbs from the twist it took over a tree root hiking down to the river. My hands hold the scent of outdoor dog.
Casey, the golden retriever, had accompanied me and trained me to throw the stick exactly the way he wanted to catch it. He waited patiently as I detoured with great intention through "The Way of the Cross". In between stations, he had me throw the stick several times. All the way down the hill to the river and back up again, every 20 feet or so he would drop the stick, wait for me to pick it up, throw it and he would catch it in his mouth.
As the path opened up to the hillside with three crosses, my nearly empty water bottle screamed my goal from its label: "Pure Life". Isn't that what Jesus promised? Didn't he come to give me life. More abundant life? As I took a drink, I thought of Jesus' promise that if we drink of the water he gives, we will never thirst.
He set the example. Pure life? It's doing God's will. It's like developing the habit of allowing another, like Casey, to train my conduct to do what he wants. I can choose to do it or not. He sits, patiently waiting. His goal is my good character. His goal is my friendship. His desire is my love. Like a child for her mother. Like a lamb for her shepherd. Like the beloved for the king.
Well, now. It's easy to be calm and at peace when no one expects anything and no one demands my attention. It's easy to do God's will in the rose garden. Now let's try to go home and live a pure life in the middle of the pressure cooker. I drive home, eyes open. God's will recorded in my frontal lobe.
I'm not in the door 10 minutes, and I raise my voice in impatience. God's voice whispers, "Joyce, I love you. Drink. Be satisfied."
Breathe. Diffuse. Rewind. Restart.
Was the retreat all I expected?
Much, much more.
Because, you see, it wasn't about getting away. It was about learning to live in the midst of it all. Live life. Abundant life.
See photos of the retreat centre here.