Sunday, November 10, 2013

Retreat and Devastation

Outdoor chapel at Camp Allen. 

I'm writing on a Sunday evening after a weekend retreat with people from my congregation (St. Stephen's Episcopal Church; Houston). They actually don't like to call it a "retreat," preferring to call it a "parish weekend." The term "retreat" has become so misused that instead of a time away for rest and rejuvenation, it has become a synonym for more work and busy-ness, only in a different location. That's worthy of a rant, but for another time.

This congregation knows how to retreat. The only things scheduled were meals, a couple of prayer/worship times, a craft time for the kids,  with optional activities offered by the camp itself. There were people tossing around footballs, folks sitting on decks just chatting, kids running around, fishing, wandering trails . . . I don't really know what all went on because I was one who wandered off on my own a few times, exercising my introvert muscles as much as possible.

We all took turns in the kitchen, preparing meals, cleaning up after meals, etc., but those were small burdens (the folks who actually planned and shopped for all the food---they maybe had some burden, so I will shout out kudos to them for the work they did to make the actual prep work easy). At the end, when we were cleaning up, plenty of people stayed around to make even that last round of cleaning fairly light work.

I came back feeling (1) that it was too short and (2) that I am nonetheless somewhat refreshed and decompressed.

Sunday morning, people make their way down to the outdoor chapel for Morning Prayer.
It has been ages since I've been on a retreat. I'm pretty sure well over 10 years. There were times I was near tears or actually wiping away a tear or two. If anyone noticed, they were kind enough to not mention it. What were the tears for? Hard to say, really. They're a little bit of a mystery to me. I think getting to go to this retreat, coupled by all the ways my life has changed, particularly ecclesiastically, in the last two years or so, and the general waves of gratitude I have about life right now . . . it's all mixed up in there. That there were connections---songs, conversations, sights, sounds, smells---between college retreats from 30 years ago and this weekend was also a part of it. A religious life, however bumpy, manages to lend some continuity to a person's existence. So much has changed and some things remain the same.

+ + + + +

Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, the Philippines are devastated. I disconnected myself from all media on the retreat, and while I knew that enormous storm was headed toward land before I went on retreat, I did not hear anything of it all weekend. Someone lifted up the Philippines during Morning Prayer, a reminder of the storm, but not news, exactly. 

I've read an article or two about it now. It is horrific. Reports of whole towns disappearing, human death toll estimated at 10,000+, just unimaginable loss . . . 

While we rested, played, rejuvenated, thousands were dying. 

And what can we say? On any corner of the planet, at any time, there is suffering, there is rest, there is destruction, and there is new life. This can be flip and I don't mean it that way, of course. The point I hope to make is that while we took time for re-creation, the point of the new creation is to carry on the work of God. 

The work of God goes on. 

So we pray for comfort and the presence of God among those so devastated. We send money and aid workers to do what they can to bind up the open wounds. We do what we can in the face of such news. It will not be enough and it will multiply. 

May we all find times of rest, may we all find ways to work, may the Spirit of God move among the suffering and may our prayers, in whatever way prayer works, alleviate the pain of people we'll never know.

If we rest and rejuvenate on retreat, we should keep it ever before us that we are new creations for the work of God. That work goes on.

Lord have mercy and grant us strength.

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