Sunday, July 20, 2014

Reflections on Returning and Retreating

Those who have been following this blog know that I am currently on a two month Sabbatical. I've previously written on my sojourn on the "Holy Hill" at Virginia Theological Seminary for the eFormation conference and my brief visit to my parents' new (to them) house in North Carolina. Following my return from that trip, I had about almost two weeks at home, doing the usual around-the-house stuff. We also ended up with a new (to us) car, since it was increasingly clear that our beloved green van was reaching the end of its life. It was a little strange having just returned from a conference all about parish ministry and how we can and should use electronic media to help form and inform members of our parishes—and then be unable to actually implement the ideas for nearly two months! I doubt the ideas will leave me, but I’m used to being right back in the thick of parish ministry. Being back at home with nothing but rest (and to-do lists, of course) to do is an odd feeling indeed. It was good to have some time to be at home, as one of my Sabbatical goals is rest and reconnecting with family. 

After my brief time at home, it was time for the Ignation Spirituality Retreat at Mt. Calvary Monastery and Guest House in Santa Barbara. I heartily recommend this lovely oasis in the hills of Santa Barbara. We had wonderful weather (mid-70s) all week and the hospitality was outstanding. All of this was an excellent backdrop for our retreat. The retreat was entitled "The Feast: The Spirit of the Lord is Upon You! From Annunciation to Mission."It was based on Ignation spirituality, where we insert ourselves into the biblical narrative and reflect on what that narrative means for us in our own discipleship and apostleship (sending out). It is the first time that I have been on more than a weekend retreat since I was ordained nearly twenty years ago, and it was good to have some time that was specifically dedicated to sitting, praying, and reflecting on life and ministry. It was also good to have the guidance of the retreat's facilitiator, The Rev. Dr. Joseph Duggan, a spiritual director and priest in the Diocese of Northern California and, of more immediate impact to me, husband of The Rev. Stefani Schatz, a long-time friend. 

My reflections from my time there would be both too long and too personal for a public blog. Suffice it to say that my time there followed the theme of "letting go" that has become the theme of my Sabbatical. Most of the retreats I have attended have been full of programming and with minimal free time or “self-directed” time. This was the complete opposite. There was no programming, speaker, or seminars. There was an outline of scripture and reflection questions for each half-day (morning and afternoon) and an opportunity for one-on-one meetings with our retreat leader, but we were commended to observe the “lesser silence” in the morning and through noonday and the “greater silence” in the night, leaving just the afternoon and evening for any sort of social interaction between me and my four fellow retreat members. Now, I may be an introvert and an unstructured (perceiving) personality on the MBTI, but nearly five days of mostly silence and huge chunks of time for rest and reflection is something to which I had a hard time adjusting!growing awareness that what I may be called upon to be is a builder of spiritual infrastructure. 

During the retreat I read an article about Silicon Valley’s increasing fascination with, and fixation on, the newest thing and the last “app” to the exclusion of what enables that innovation to occur in the first place—semiconductors, chips, routers, etc… It occurred to me that this is also going on in the church—we strive for the latest and greatest thing (program, book, worship style, etc…) and sometimes neglect the basic infrastructure. This is especially true in this time of rapid change and transition. We alternate between frantically trying to keep pace with the latest spiritual trends and sitting in despair that we are unable to do so. Perhaps an emphasis on “spiritual infrastructure”—prayer, study, and intentional action—might be a good way of re-framing how we do and are church.

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