The Value of Retreat
I have been retreating since, well, forever. Or at least as long as I can remember.
When I was a boy living in Florida, it was mostly in my imagination. And then it was on the church property; stealing away into the tall grass looking for beer bottles to break.
Then it was the sink hole across from the church property.
In high school and college it was always in the woods. Or by a river or stream or waterfall. And always by the simple beauty of a fire.
I remember meeting my friends at Deb's house.
Deb and her family lived in a huge old farm house on the outskirts of Lititz, Pennsylvania. A creek ran behind it. And by the creek stood an old shed. Deb's brother lived in it when he ventured back in town. He was always off traveling, living the vagabond life.
An old wood stove, a bed, a bunch of books and candles. That shed was my heaven. My ideal living space.
Though I never lived in it, I wanted to. We'd sit by the creek and the fire for hours at Deb's house, into the way early morning. We'd play Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel. And we'd mess around on the guitar in the shed.
Those elements never left me.
I will make a fire outside in the early mornings of winter and sit by it, writing and reading, until my fingers fall off. Inevitably my daughters will join me. They'll feed the fire, and sit under blankets and chit-chat.
Needless to say, the writing usually ends when they come out. But the imagination fires up.
One day I'll have a shed on my property. Or I'll build a barn or yurt somewhere remote. Or I'll convince my friend Chelsea and her husband to sell me a couple acres on Lake Superior. I'll erect a yurt and write novels no one will ever read. Maybe.
Until then, I'm happy to use the cabins of friends, VRBO, or a remote camp site.
But why? Why retreat?
What's the point of finding quiet? Abiding in solitude? Sitting with a few friends around a fire? Retreating to a remote place for some writing and thinking?
Because we need to feed our souls. We need to chuck our phones, tablets, computers and televisions and visit with things we can touch, smell, hear, taste.
We need to sit on a boulder, by a fire, under a tree.
We need to be reminded that we were created to be in this world of ours, not just to passively watch it hum along as we plug into the next season of bingeing silliness.
Instead of annihilating time and space, we need to partake of it. We need a good ramble on the mountainside, down by the creek, to feed our imaginations with the sounds we're often too busy to hear.
We need to interrupt the routine of fast-paced-ness with the routine of stillness.
We need time with our Creator. To hear him. To love him. To become more like him.
And we don't always need some hyper-planned getaway either.
Last week I volunteered at Nest Fest, a brilliant little festival my friends host on their wonderful 12-acre farm outside of Charlotte. I arrived the night before for some fellowship.
After a bunch of us laughed around the fire, the crowd thinned, couples left for home. I stayed, unpacked my sleeping bag, and laid it on the outdoor couch in front of the fire.
I slept under the stars.
I woke at 4 a.m. to rebuild the fire. It roared.
The air, cold. The autumn stars watched over me.
I watched them for hours. Just staring at the heavens, watching them move ever so slightly across the sky.
Gemini, Orion, Taurus, Aries and the Pleiades. I traced them with my fingers. I named them. I studied their place in the sky. And then, two massive falling stars dripped into the horizon.
I laughed. Each falling speck of brilliance an epiphany. I'd forgotten about the Orionid Meteor Shower.
I spent a short time praying out loud; for friends, family, and praise to the Creator of all this grandeur splashed in abundance right over our heads.
I didn't sleep much that night. And I was groggy the next morning helping folks park. But I didn't care. My soul felt nourished. I was joy-filled.
It was spontaneous retreat. It was not planned. Just a simple opportunity that yielded deep blessing.
You don't have to be a writer or painter or musician or whatever to benefit from retreat. After all, Jesus was a carpenter, he stole away all the time to the mountainside to pray.
You just need to take advantage of the moments set before you. Once you taste retreat, you'll schedule it. And then you'll invite a close friend or two. And once it becomes your routine you'll find the art of life take on new meaning.