By Kristeen Bruun
I was barely home from my son’s wedding long enough to do my laundry when I traveled forth again for an eight-day silent retreat. The first question I always get about this exercise in spiritual aberration is, “Are you REALLY not going to talk AT ALL for eight days?”
Well, no. For one hour a day, I meet with a spiritual director who helps me process whatever I have been praying about and helps to guide my prayers. There is also a daily worship service.
Otherwise, yes. Meals, silent. In my room, silent. Walking about the serene and lovely campus and appreciating God’s creative power in nature, silent.
I’ve been engaging in this kind of prayer off and on since I was an adolescent. (Do I have to say that I’m an introvert? But even extroverts sometimes find these retreats helpful, or so they tell me.)
This particular retreat center is located on a lake. Out into the lake stretches a dock. On the end of the dock sit two chairs.
Almost all of the chairs scattered about the property are set up in twos. “One for you and one for Jesus,” explains my director. “Listening is just as important as talking.” He repeats this almost every day during our conferences. Of course, I’ve heard this before, but I need to hear it again.
In the past, I’ve spent a lot of my listening time on the end of the dock, almost completely surrounded by water, praying about baptism and all of the other water experiences that a relationship with Jesus calls to mind.
This time, the dock is missing! It’s not gone, explains my director. It’s beneath the surface because the water has been unusually high this past year. As the lake water evaporates, the dock will emerge again. Maybe while I am there? If the weather is warm enough, maybe…
So we begin. My first assignment flows from Psalm 103, “Bless the LORD, and do not forget all his gifts.” I am to write a list of the gifts I’ve received during the past year, and thank God for them. Which I do. (I’m a docile retreatant.)
But my director knows full well that there’s more beneath the surface: for what am I NOT grateful? Health problems. Financial struggles. Not just the stress of retirement, but the fact that I thought retiring was supposed to be easy! Regrets! There are lots of stories in my life that conclude, “It’s too late now.”
It’s day three, and the dock railing pokes its way above the water.
My director sends me to the parable of the talents (Matthew 25). I try not to roll my eyes. How many sermons and reflections have I heard on the theme of “don’t bury your talents?” But this time, I am reading over and over again, verse by verse, slowly, asking Jesus what the message is for me.
Finally, I realize what the outcome will be: fidelity to small matters results in greater responsibility, that is, a more intimate connection with the master’s concerns. The master is joyful over this increased shared discipleship, and he invites the disciple, “Come, share your master’s joy!” (Matthew 25:21). Yes, I do want to be a part of this!
It is day six, and I can see the outline of the backs of the chairs on the end of the dock.
I decide that if I can see the floor of the dock, I will walk on it, even if it is still under water. I brought my water-walker sandals just for this. It must be close, but I can’t see it yet.
We are invited to confess our sins. Not all of them, of course. Who would have time for that? Pick one. A significant one. I say that I am sorry for not being faithful to daily prayer. I really want to get back on track with prayer.
My confessor responds: “If you had a good friend and you had breakfast at McDonald’s every day, and your friend did not show up, would you be angry or would you be concerned?” He then reminds me that no one else can replace me in Jesus’ life.
Meditate on this, he says. (In Lutheran terms, he has changed the context from Law to Gospel.) I immediately see that it will feel much different to think of Jesus waiting expectantly for me to share what’s going on in my life, maybe with a smile on his face, than the guilt I felt before.
It is now day eight.
We will head out on the morning of day nine, to let these gifts and insights inform our lives as we move forward. If I am going to walk on the dock, today is my last chance.
I know that the dock is there, even if I can’t see it. Something tangible lies just beneath the surface.
I put on my water-walkers and start for the lake.
Just as I reach the edge of the lawn, a thunderstorm erupts. With a few other people, I stand under the balcony overhang and watch the storm. Regretfully, there will be no dock walking for me this year.
But I’ll be back; and I know the dock is there.