In the deep of winter, which for Connecticut is February, it can feel tough to find time for rest. Winter is the time to work hard and accomplish so much that come summer, we can take weeks of vacation. Perhaps it is the cold. If we take any time to pause we may freeze; so we keep moving to keep warm; or perhaps it is the busyness of the liturgical or holiday traffic-jam in the winter. Whatever it is, the reality is that taking retreat or rest has become such a rarity that it requires announcement and reward. We put up out-of-office messages stating that we are on retreat, taking a day off, taking a sabbath, and we are met with congratulatory messages. “Good for you taking time off… when you return, please do this and that.” Or, “A well rewarded break. Kudos!” It seems that retreating or resting has become such a rarity that it requires a reward. But, it is essential, nay it is biblical, to incorporate retreat and rest into your weekly life. The desire for an extended vacation is a reaction to the deprivation of rest from our common lives.
On March 1, I drove the delightful snowy drive from New Haven to Camp Washington for a 24-hour retreat, one overnight. Among many programs, Camp Washington offered a one-night Deep Winter Retreatfor women led by Sheryl Fatse and Jojo Keane.
This retreat was a chance to breathe, sleep, do yoga, eat, and ultimately be with God in a small community of women. This one overnight was a taste of what a weekly retreat could look like for individuals. The participants were encouraged to bring items that inspire comfort: blankets, comfortable clothing, eye pillows, sweaters, etc. Our time together was broken into sections by communal meals provided by camp, which I must add created another level of rest – having delicious and nourishing meals provided which you didn’t cook.
Friday evening was spent lighting candles and entering into a sacred space with God and each other. Musician and meditative singer Carrie Grossman led everyone through soft chants using her harmonium. She asked us to chant along if we wanted, or just to sit and go inward and pray, to listen to what God was saying. We closed the evening with a ritual of blessing and cleansing, naming and releasing anything that was keeping us from what God was calling us to do and be. For some, it was to release judgement to embrace love, release fear to embrace joy, release perfection to embrace fulfillment. For me, it was to release expectations and graciously receive whatever God had for me.
Then we left in silence to our rooms to sleep. It was tough to not check my inbox, Instagram, or text messages. A voice within me saying just one glance at my inbox wouldn’t hurt was loud, but God’s call to just rest and sleep was louder.
In the morning, we gathered for silent yoga, breakfast, then we were led through a practice of Yoga Nidra: a yoga practice of rest and guided meditation. Afterwards, we were asked to share what God was saying to us in a place of deep rest. I think this is the essential question of retreat: what is God saying to us when we clear out all the to-dos and burdens that clog our minds and hearts?What is God saying to us when we rest into God and give our burdens to Christ?
We were then invited to express what God was saying to us through art. Some painted, danced, wrote, and prayed. Listening to God isn’t passive, it requires action. I believe God speaks to us when we do, create, or become; even the very action of rest is becoming an open vessel, doing nothing is still doing. Resting is still an action, however it is not an emptying action — that is why it is essential. As human beings in this world we are constantly emptying – our energy, our ideas, our money. We must find ways to restore, refill, and renew ourselves. Rest is a filling action, it restores energy, and if we graciously receive the opportunity to rest often in God, we will find ourselves not deprived but revived.
Much like the end of a worship service, we ended our retreat with movement and benediction. We took the energy that God has cultivated within us, that newness of spending hours resting, and passed it to each other through words of encouragement and blessing, and we went out into the world.
This exact retreat is not something that can be replicated every week, sure. But, elements of it and the lesson I learned can. I can drive an hour up to Camp Washington to walk, sit, rest. I can turn my phone off, not reply to that email or check Instagram, and sit in silence and listen. I can paint, and dance, and chant, and respond to God. I can rest and refill. Retreat shouldn’t require a public announcement, an out-of-office message proclaiming that you are taking a sabbath.
Retreat shouldn’t even require an extensive journey to some far-away place in order to be successful. Retreat, rest, whatever you call it happens anywhere you can return to God, and it should be so incorporated into our lives that it is expected not rewarded. God rested once a week, so can we.
How do you rest and retreat each week? Comment below.