It is time to start planning my annual retreat and I can feel my own resistance. I want to play, not pray. I want Vegas, not a Zen retreat in Crestone, Colorado. I want country fried steak, not a vegetable medley on brown rice. I want summer movies, not scripture. I want. I want. I want.
We live in a culture of want. And much of our want – perhaps even most of our want, is manufactured by people paid to sell things.
“You need to want this.” says the advertising. “You do not yet know that you want this, but we are going to help you to know that you want this.” is what they say in their ads. “We are going to play on your deepest insecurities, your deepest fears.” they do not say out loud.
My car runs on gasoline. My nation runs on envy and greed. My church runs on…. what?
I guess it depends on the church right? Some run on love. Some on generosity. Some on prestige. Some on fears and anxieties. Some on liquified righteous indignation. Chug. Chug. Chug.
I need a good retreat this year. Some silence. Some long walks. Some listening. I can feel myself getting bitchy.
I don’t trust myself to be a good priest without an annual retreat, with Kai-the-dog to preach to me like he does, pushing up against my body on sunny naps mid-Colorado-mountain-hikes, reassuring me that though weird, all will be well. Soft oily black-lab fur on his face, he often lays his blocky head on top of mine, making my head his pillow; and though I can hardly breathe, I love the sensation of that having been his choice.
When clergy tell me they are too busy for annual retreats I eye them like I would an airline pilot who is slurring his speech and smells of vodka as I step onto the plane with a whisper of a prayer for safety. And, having been a monk, I remember the many clergy and bishops who would arrive only pretending to retreat – trumpeting their “time at the monastery” like a snake-oil salesman, insuring the trip into every sentence at every church coffee hour; only to arrive with piles of books, secretive emails, walks ending in the maelstrom of Harvard Square and its delights – an anesthetized retreat – a farce.
But I do that too sometimes, which is how I can recognize it. So on my better days I have compassion for a work-addictive culture.
For many, like the working-poor – a retreat is a luxury un-enjoyed, and I get that. But for clergy it is like that week of continuing education air traffic controllers take to learn about new gizmos on their control panels – we sort of want them to understand them. When an air traffic controller does not know her panel, planes full of people crash. When a priest does not know their shadows, churches crash.
When I look out at the naves of churches, it is hard not to see how similar they are to the cabins of airplanes – lots of rows, an isle, everyone face-front, the priest-stewardess – “coffee, water pillow?” “Prayers, bread, wine?” “Snack-box, blanket? magazine?” “Bible study. pledge card, absolution?”
So its time for a retreat before the frantic autumnal begins with programs and pledge cards.
Six days. My dog. Some hikes. Some thinking. Some prayers. Some rice bowls. Some confession. Some healing. Some imagining. Some water-colors and an art pad, just to see what happens – what colors I choose.
A scavenger hunt for God, my so-shy-God.
Kai and I will meet you on that hill over there where I really hope we can sit and chat. Or sit and stare, together at mountains.