“Thus says the Lord:
‘Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is,
and walk therein,
and all of you will find rest for your souls.’”
~ Jeremiah, 6:16
Near to the close of my present retreat, during the extended silence following Lauds, I wrote this prayer in my notebook:
For strength and endurance,
but with a savor of this place
As the last of four days away from the fray, I’m now imagining the way home and forward. Although these occasional intermezzos are not able to change the situations I momentarily step away from; they do affect how well I can deal with them. Knowing to do this has been as much an acquired skill as learning how to divert into contemplative silence. And the whole idea is something that has come naturally to me. Pursuing quiet times has been part of my life since childhood. And there aren’t any expectations- at least none beyond rest and the ability to listen to sounds other than demands or the fragmented din of popular culture.
Choosing to work a holiday enabled me to take a day off at the opposite end of the week. Having only a few days meant choosing a close location. Driving across only two counties allowed for the leisurely sojourn immediately after work. Sure enough, the days leading up to my carved-out time of silence amounted to a chaotic obstacle course- so much so that my drive through a rainstorm was actually relaxing. Arriving at the Alfred Shaker community, the one Brother still awake directed me to my room. Affixed to the door was a note of welcome to me.
A place had been set for me, in an expression of the meaning of sanctified: distinctly dedicated. Carrying in my effects and closing the day in a deep sleep, it was an assurance of being just where I needed to be. In these recent few days, the idea of sanctified time returns to mind. Having fought through traffic as it were, toward a clearing, perspectives must now be amended. As the circumstances now permit, I have to be able to slow my own steps.
In something of an irony, it is taking an effort to relax. “You know there is one rule of retreat,” Brother Robert proclaimed with an airborne index finger, “and the rule is to rest!” Stopping everything cold is a worthwhile culture shock. That coveted silence finally arrives, and I wonder what to do. The idea is to not do. Repose is surely not the sort of procrastinating puttering I tend to build into my days. Time sanctified is fine-fibered paper upon which to scribe.
My camera and writing materials are with me, so there is some activity to my inaction. Indeed, I’ve been hiking some trails, as well as taking part in the Divine Hours. Wayside rests are scattered places of patient acceptance. A chance to observe and absorb. Setting aside gnawing frustrations, it is easier to recognize those “incidental blessings” that have been in the works all this time- however unnoticed. In a moment, stopping along a pine-canopied path, in swirls of cold air, this long voyage became newly apparent to me. The life of pilgrimage has taken me very far and yet surprisingly near. The default mindset tends to be one of struggling for traction. Although often a series of beginnings, some major distances have been covered. This time, the observation does not overwhelm; there is nothing now, in this place, to interrupt a thought.
As what is now seen represents that which is yet unseen, there is “incidental mystery” in simply breathing this cold forest air. The reawakening woods respirate with the spring. A season’s conclusion is another’s commencement. Easter’s fulfillment, the life within, is strength for the long journey. Yet as the heavenly manna of yore, the indwelling Divine spirit is not to be hoarded. To continue drawing in fresh air, it is necessary to exhale. Receiving and giving take their turns.
With this is an understanding for me about wayside respite. These intervals are invitations to think of what we are, rather than of what we do. Instead of being portioned out in manufactured measure, the Holy Spirit is fully given- and is thus to be fully set forth. The breath of life is entire and complete- more than I can presently know. Though temperaments vary, I must remember I’m not partly alive, but fully so. Simply being is about all I could do with the gift of these few days. And in that acceptance is great inspiration to resume the road and be an encouragement.