Today is Labor Day in America. I must admit that, since I’ve become a solopreneur, I tend to ignore these secular weekday holidays and work anyway. (Since self-employed folks don’t get holiday pay, it’s been more about workflow and a desire to take other times off instead.) But as this holiday rolled around, I had a couple of conversations which led me to embrace this celebration of labor by taking myself on retreat. So, if you’re reading this post on the day it comes out, I’m retreating.
The first conversation was with a friend, and it was about when we would next have a phone conversation. She works for an established organization and thus has paid holidays. We usually talk on the weekend, but Labor Day evening worked for her, and when I said I might be working, she encouraged me to rethink that—and I have.
Initially, I thought I would take the prior Saturday as my retreat day, but last week’s workload was quite full. When I spoke with my spiritual director on Thursday afternoon, I was facing the reality that, in order to meet deadlines, I needed to work on Saturday. We ended up having an illuminating conversation about why I wanted to take a retreat day, and what I intended to do with it.
First, I told her, I wanted to “take” a free virtual retreat day currently being offered by the Shalem Institute, where I did my spiritual guidance training (over twenty years ago!). The retreat day incorporates the work of Howard Thurman, a Black theologian, and Shalem is offering it “to further explore Howard Thurman’s life and contemplative witness and what it might mean for us in today’s challenging world.”
I wanted to check out the retreat with the hope of recommending it to the antiracism discussion group at our church (and I will add a PS to this post after the retreat, to let you know what I think about it). While that’s not necessarily the “right” reason to take a retreat day (it “should” be about connecting more deeply with God), it’s honestly a part of my agenda. Another part of my agenda was deepening my own connections between Jesus and the disinherited people with whom he lived and ministered.
Yet another part of my agenda was to spend deeper time with God in stillness. I do take time each day to be still, to “check in” with God through prayer and contemplation. Much of my joyfulness in God comes through my morning walks, as I notice and give thanks for the beauty of creation and my good health and ability to get out and enjoy it. (Yes, my back is slowly getting better, thanks be to God!)
In talking with my spiritual director, I also realized how the “agenda” of the Thurman retreat and being still with God probably weren’t compatible. And yet…why do I think I need to take “deeper” time with God in stillness? As we talked about where I’ve been experiencing the Spirit’s presence in my life lately (in all of the above, and most especially in the Psalming Our Disorientation virtual retreat day that I led ten days ago), I humbly and awe-fully realized that I have reached a point in my spiritual life where I am fundamentally open to God’s presence in my life on a regular basis. I don’t need to “retreat” in order to connect. I have “done the work,” I keep doing the work, and connecting with God now happens naturally.
Wow. I’m definitely not a saint, but to realize—and explicitly acknowledge—that I have that ongoing, deep, connected relationship with God…well, it’s deeply humbling and I am very grateful.
And so, I will be taking an antiracist agenda into my Labor Day retreat day. I will trust that the Spirit is with me, as usual. I will trust that I am open, as usual. And I will let God take care of the rest of the agenda.
When did you last go on retreat? What agendas did you take with you? Might you also need to take a retreat day sometime soon?
P.S. As promised, here is my assessment of the retreat: It was interesting and thought-provoking to learn more about one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s mentors and I appreciate Howard Thurman’s ultimate focus on Jesus’ commandment to love our enemies. It sparked some helpful reflections for me, and I do wish there had been more connection with current events, but perhaps the good reflection questions were meant to lead me in that direction, and I have more reflecting to do.
I spent Labor Day sleeping in and then going to help my brother’s family in his garden. While that was all good, your post is making me realize that some spiritual retreating might have been good for me too, especially after returning from a week of travel last week. I might have been able to work through my anger toward the disappointments of life right now, and break through the absolute silence of God. And returned to work with a better attitude today. 🙂
Ah, Rachel, my prayers are with you. Perhaps a retreat day sometime soon (it’s never too late!) can help you find good ways to let God know about your anger and perhaps listen for a response….
I confess I did not understand a good deal of what you wrote, but let me look at one item in your post that caused me to reflect.
“When did you last go on retreat?”
Perhaps a retreat is quite different from my Sabbath experience. I ‘take’ (not go on) a Sabbath every Sunday. I don’t do housework, yard work, or put forth effort on any volunteer project. I only read biblical material or theology, and I avoid news or screens. I don’t drive anywhere or purchase things. It’s my way of reminding myself that God can manage the universe without my help (rueful smile here).
I also think taking a Sabbath might be quite different than going on retreat. Of course, there may be some similarities; you discuss ‘being open to God,’ while I use the Orthodox Orthros prayers on Sunday morning. Perhaps you attend corporate worship while I go to Mass on Saturday night. However, the differences are more significant. By taking a Sabbath, I find in God in time, not space, in history above nature. That means the ‘holy time’ I set aside each week also changes the meaning of the six days I work. Those have a sacred quality that was modeled by God’s own work in Genesis 1. But to rest every seventh day changes the way I view God’s revelation of Himself in time, in the call to Abraham, the Exodus, Exile and return, and in the incarnate Jesus. To observe a Sabbath means a certain freedom. Freedom from ceaseless work, from other people’s demands, from a society that insists that doing is more important than being. I am not on a journey to find God, nor is God within me. Instead, I am within God while I observe the Sabbath.
Fundamentally, the Sabbath is an act of the imagination. We are to imagine what the Kingdom of God will be like and how it will banish Sin and Death as powers that rule the earth. It is to glimpse the power of the Cross and coming of God’s rule. Maranatha!
Thank you for your post.
Thank you, Diana, for your thoughtful post, and for pointing out a phrase that I definitely used without thought. There is a significant tradition of “going away” to retreats that are held in specific locations, and part of the idea is that it is easier for many of us to turn our attention toward God when we are not at home, and thus not distracted by the dust, the laundry, the paper piles that need sorting…. Your ability to take a weekly Sabbath in your own home is a clear indicator that you do not fall in that group of people—and, in fact, I did “retreat” at home, so I also did not “go” on retreat this time (though I have found great blessing in times at various retreat houses throughout my adult life).
In terms of the differences between Sabbath and retreat, I would concur with much of your assessment. Retreat is often intended to be a longer period of time, perhaps with teachings provided to guide our thoughts and prayers, rather than a cessation of work in order to connect with God. I very much like your image of being within God while in Sabbath.
I’m glad my post sparked these thoughts for you. You’re welcome!