Of the seven practices of the Way of Love – Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go, Rest and Turn – the one that I am really lousy at is rest. As a matter of fact, I’m writing this article while I’m at the beach, on sabbatical after seven years of ordained diaconal ministry. See what I mean? I’m flunking Sabbath.
I know that it is good for me to rest on a regular basis, to allow time for reflection, rejuvenation, and restoration. I know that rest strengthens all of my relationships with my family, friends and God. One of the ways that I have been successful at rest is by going on silent directed retreats. I have done four of them in the past seven years, and I have found them to be my most effective attempt at rest.
I have participated in the six-day silent directed retreats sponsored by the Wellstreams Program, run by the Spirituality Network in Columbus. They have been held at beautiful retreat centers around Ohio, in peaceful natural settings. The retreat begins with an opening session on Sunday evening and ends with a closing session that has been on Saturday afternoon in the past but will be on Sunday going forward.
Other than those two meetings, we are silent throughout the retreat, including during meals. The exception is that we meet individually with an assigned spiritual director for one hour each day. This helps me to process what I am experiencing. As they say, God is the director, and the spiritual director helps us hear him. We are encouraged to listen to God, to be aware of God’s movement in our lives. As we lean into the silence, we listen for God to speak his deepest desire for us.
I spend most of my time in prayer, both formally by praying all four parts of the Daily Office each day, and informally through being in nature and conversing with God constantly. I walk a lot, and swim and bicycle if possible. I journal my thoughts and feelings throughout the week, so that I am able to revisit them later. There is usually a prayer session on Wednesday evening and it is a welcome way to break the silence just a tiny bit. I feel a strong sense of community during the retreat even though we are silent.
I spend most of my waking hours outdoors, either moving or sitting. The grounds of the retreat centers are lovely – truly holy places. I see God’s light everywhere: in the sun, the moon, the stars, the fireflies, on spider webs and reflected in drops of rain. The prayers, poems, music and scripture passages that the spiritual directors use to guide me are just right.
The retreats renew my relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I come away reenergized to strike a balance between work and prayer, and between what I call “Doing Meribah” and “Being Meribah.” I find intentional time with God in retreat to be critical to maintaining my energy for ministry. I feel loved by God. I hear him say that his deepest desire for me is to be happy and joyful, to be balanced, to have peace, and to feel his divine light within me even in darkness. I return to my routine life inspired to be God’s light shining in the world, and grateful for my time away with God.
The next Wellstreams seven-day silent directed retreat will be held at Our Lady of the Pines in Fremont, Ohio, from August 25 until September 1. Check out the details on the Spirituality Network’s website, www.spiritualitynetwork.org.
The Rev. Meribah Mansfield is a deacon who is currently on sabbatical and plans to return to work on the diocese’s Becoming Beloved Community initiative this fall.