Sabbath Rest in a 24/7 World
Paying Attention to Our Longing Hearts
“You are my God, I worship you.
In my heart I long for you,
As I would long for a stream in a scorching desert.” Ps. 63:1 (CEV)
September can be busy for youth workers. September is also the time of new beginnings, as the new school year starts up again. This makes it a good time to retreat and build some healthy rhythms into our lives, rhythms that help us to pay attention to our life with God.
I asked veteran youth worker, retreat leader, and spiritual director Archie Honrado 1 to contribute some ideas for this retreat guide. Archie reminds us:
To retreat is to step back and deeply watch and listen to God’s movement in and through your life. In stepping back, you can reclaim promises of God—sometimes forgotten and buried in the midst of busyness and tiredness. Step back to receive grace to keep you going, or to hear a sweet and gentle voice telling you to stop your non-stop busyness that leads to shallow living. To keep going on and on with activities is a form of self-neglect that can lead to burn out, dropping out of the ministry and even your walk with Christ. Stepping back allows you to see closures or beginnings in your relationships, ministries or pursuits. It can also be a beautiful time of expressing gratefulness for what God is doing in your life.
There is a variety of ways to build some space into our schedules. We may think that going to a retreat center is “how” to retreat. That is always a great option if it is available, but it is not the only way. In month 2 of the Sabbath rest in a 24/7 City series, we explored Jesus’ rhythms of engagement and withdrawal. He was often out and about, with many people wanting and demanding something from him. But there were other times when he withdrew to be alone with his father.
We know what it is like to have people demanding things from us. But if we quiet ourselves, we also know that longing that David speaks of in Psalm 63, that desire to be attentive to our life with God: “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1, TNIV). When we stop, we may find that our souls are longing to talk to God. [See books and resources from Ruth Haley Barton on this topic that are available at http://www.thetransformingcenter.org/.]
Below are some ideas to help us step back and catch our breath, and to pay attention to the longing in our hearts. Some of these can be done in the midst of our busy lives. And some need time dedicated to getting away. Both contexts are part of a healthy rhythm: meeting God in the midst of life and withdrawing to be alone with our God.
1. Cyber Retreat:
The web is now filled with resources for spiritual growth. Sometimes you can take a mini-retreat and pray right at the computer. Here are a few possibilities:
1. www.sacredspace.ie—This is one of the oldest and most popular spirituality websites, started by the Irish Jesuits. It guides you through ten minutes of daily guided prayer and is available in many languages.
2.www.labyrinth.org.uk/onlinelabyrinthpage1.html—This online labyrinth is from Youth For Christ in the UK. Don’t know what a labyrinth is? Check it out.
3. www.henrinouwen.org—The website of the Henri Nouwen Society. You can sign up for a daily meditation or a weekly reflection. Both go straight to your inbox, ready for a moment to reflect when you open your email in the morning.
4. www.urban-monk.org—a site created by Fuller’s Joe Colletti and Sofia Herrera from the Office of Urban Initiatives, grounded in the Benedictine tradition with a focus on various disciplines.
5. http://www.thetransformingcenter.org/—this site features free articles by author Ruth Haley Barton. These are also syndicated by email. Since she’s mentioned here as well as the footnote, maybe the footnote should be deleted.
6. http://www.cacradicalgrace.org/— The resource site for Richard Rohr and the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC). Daily reflection can be sent to your inbox.
2. Retreat Through Art – with Archie Honrado
We all need ways to create space in our lives. Archie offers some suggestions for artists and those who are drawn to visual art.
Why retreat through art?
Images are everywhere. Some of them may be very unhelpful. But visual images can also draw us into God’s presence. Art can arrest our attention. It immerses us in a new reality, a new sense of time and space. It moves us beyond being casual inquirers and invites us to gaze deeper into our souls. Praying through art is like listening deeply to a parable. It opens the ear of your heart. Praying through art can de-stress you from the demands of deadlines, performance and goal-oriented projects.
1. Turn your private space into an art gallery. What pieces of art do you have hanging (or not) in your house or apartment? If you do not have any art, begin collecting images that feed your soul, that draw you in and cause you to rest. Photographs, paintings, drawings or sculptures can all be powerful images to inspire prayer.
2. If you have little art in your home or office, and/or little space in which to display something, head to a local art museum for an afternoon or find a church with paintings or murals on its walls that you can visit in silence.
3. Consider creating your own art! The act of creating art can also be a way to make space in our lives. Taking photographs causes us to see reality in new ways. Collage is one art form that is accessible to those who do not think of themselves as artistic. Cutting up static images and creating something new can be a very renewing process. Observing the themes that emerge in your collage can show you new things about yourself.
4. Set aside 15-30 minutes to gaze at and pray with and through the art you have.
- Sit comfortably in front of your artwork and take a few deep breaths. Remind yourself of the breath of life breathed into you by God.
- Gaze prayerfully at the art. Look at it as if you are reading a parable, imagining what Jesus would say to you through the art. Caution: If you were trained to be an art critic, refrain from using that critic’s eye during this exercise!
- Capture what the ear of your heart has heard through what your eyes have seen. Is there a word, a color, a symbol, or a story that has caught your attention?
- Pray your response to what you have heard without moralizing or attempting to make a life application.
- Carry in your heart what you heard until you feel released to let it go, or until God brings clarity to its meaning.
Returning to Life
Once we learn to pay attention to our soul through art, this can impact the way we live our daily, ordinary lives—doing laundry, cleaning the house, going to work—by teaching us to slow down and practice the presence of the Lord while we perform such mundane tasks. For instance, practice enjoying a meal rather than rushing through it. Prepare a dinner—shop, cook, and set a table with candles—then eat slowly, relishing your meal. If you do this with others, talk about the difference you notice in eating this way and how your soul responds.
3. Get Away with Jesus
When you are able to get away for a few hours or a few days, here are some suggestions to help you connect with God and feed your soul. Be sure you have your Bible, journal, some art supplies if needed, and perhaps an iPod with worship or contemplative music if that helps you clear away distractions.
1. Find a location based on your needs and the amount of time available. You might prefer a park, a retreat center, a coffee shop, or going for a hike. Keep in mind that this place needs to feel safe, not one where you will be turning to see who is behind you, or where you friends will find you. Remember to turn off your phone!
2. Start by thinking through and journaling your own expectations and agenda for this time. Release your expectations to God. What might be God’s agenda for this time?
3. Distractions are a normal part of retreats. You will find your mind going to many places, thinking of many things. Do not be discouraged. Many of the great saints also struggled with distractions. You can go to the place of distraction and give it to God, perhaps write it down if it involves something you are afraid you will forget. My own method is that I imagine a ship sailing by, and I take my distracting thoughts and put it on board and let it sail on.
If you get sleepy, also do not be discouraged. Perhaps God wants to give you a nap, resting in God’s arms.
4. Select a scripture for to meditate on during your time. You might have a scripture that you are drawn to already. You can also choose based on the One Year Bible (http://www.oneyearbibleonline.com) or the lectionary reading for the day (http://www.usccb.org/nab/).
5. If you are hoping to do some reflecting but aren’t sure how to get started, a practice called the Examen of Consciousness might be helpful. You can do this in most locations, and only need 30 minutes or so. The examen is a tool to stop, reflect, and look for ways that God has been present in our lives. It can be done on a daily basis, usually before going to bed. But on a retreat it can be used to reflect on the past season or the past year, hoping to learn some things that might help us to live more sanely in the coming season or year.
A Basic Outline of the Examen [A number of versions of the examen are available in print and online. This version was adapted from the article by Kara Powell and Jude Tiersma Watson entitled “Adrenalin: Our Secret Addiction”.]
- Spend a few minutes sitting and listening to yourself breathe. Remember that our God breathed the breath of life into us. Remember that you belong to God, and let go of the many thoughts clamoring for attention in your mind. Look over the following list of questions and choose the questions that seem to fit for you at this moment. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide and illumine your reflections.
Questions to Consider
- What were the high points of my summer? Low points?
- For what am I most grateful? Least grateful?
- What was the most life-giving part of my summer? What seemed to drain life from me?
- When was God most present to me? When did I least sense God’s presence?
Closing Reflection and Prayer
- What can you learn from these reflections?
- What is one change you can make in this coming season that could create new life for you?
- End by thanking God for being present with you, and asking God to make you more attentive to the ways that he is and desires to be present in your life.
6. Here are a few additional prayers that may be helpful to you on your retreat or for daily reflection:
Prayer by Charles de Foucauld
Father, I abandon myself into your hands.
Do with me whatever you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you.
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures.
Into your hands I commend my spirit.
I offer it to you with all the love that is in my heart.
For I love you, Lord, and so want to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father. Amen [“The Abandonment Prayer of Charles de Foucauld” found at http://www.ad2000.com.au/articles/2006/feb2006p14_2153.html]
Prayer of Thomas Merton
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me,
Nor do I really know myself,
And the fact that I think I am following your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
Does in fact please you.
And I hope that I will never do anything
Apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this,
You will lead me by the right road
Though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always,
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
And you will never leave me
to face my struggles alone. Amen [From Merton’s Thoughts in Solitude, accessed at http://www.mertoninstitute.org/merton_prayer.php.]
NOTE: For another free retreat resource from FYI, check out the Urban Contemplative Retreat guide!