Saturday, 7 June 2014

"Occupied with Gladness of Heart"

Today, as I write this, I am on day 4, the last day of my retreat. Retreats generally gather people together around a common theme. Because they pull people out of their everyday lives and tasks – bill-paying, colonoscopies and other assorted unpleasantness – retreats can be very valuable ways of building team spirit and refreshing people’s spirits.

My retreat is different. The resident sweetie pulled the trailer out here to a secluded RV park, and went home again, leaving me to my own devices. No team-building exercises, no meals served in the dining room, no laughter with friends. There’s not even another trailer in the campground. Just me and the big wide world. And, as my friend suggested in last week's blog, here I am, primed to listen to the Almighty.

A labyrinth can be used as a tool for inner soul work, and are often found at spiritual retreat centres. 

The first time I took a spiritual retreat, I really didn’t know what to expect. I thought it would be an austere experience; I would strip myself of all that I held dear so that I could focus with honesty on the inner self. (Sounds like a colonoscopy, doesn't it?) I would scour my soul and get rid of all the grunge that was festering deep down. The spiritual director with whom I met – another first – set me straight pretty quickly. “It’s time,” she said to me, “for you to be kind to yourself.” Whoa!

Since then, I’ve thought of personal retreats as a gift. A mystified friend, who said taking a retreat by herself would be a gift she’d prefer to return, wondered how I could possibly be alone for four whole days. If someone dropped her off in the wilderness, she’d just turn right around and begin walking all 20 kilometers back into town (quite a feat considering the condition of her knees!). When she's with other people, she's being kind to herself. We are all such different people with such different needs.

The title of this blog comes from Ecclesiastes 5:20 in the Bible. I’ve dipped into this book of wisdom literature every morning, bundled up in a sweater over my nightgown (who’s looking, after all? Be kind to yourself, eh?) sitting by the ocean with a steaming morning coffee at my elbow. Wisdom literature: yes, I need that right now. I thought I knew what I would find because the author, probably King Solomon, is well know for his line "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. As the modern saying goes, “Life’s a b****, and then you die.” But surprise! There’s more.

Solomon must have been on a retreat of his own when he wrote this. He had it all: riches, fame, power, women, health, and even wisdom. Now, probably at the apex of his career, he was pondering the one thing he didn’t have: the answer to the question, “What does it all mean?” And eventually, after considering everything, he concluded: nothing. It means nothing. Nada. Zilch.  But...

It’s the “but” that hit me square between the eyeballs. Look at the things that give you joy, says the writer. It is good and proper to eat and drink (and give yourself gifts like a retreat). It is good to find satisfaction in your work. It is a bonus if you get more ... enjoy these gifts from God. You don’t have to torment yourself by asking, “What’s it all about?” because God is keeping you "occupied with gladness of heart.” This is my interpretation, and it works for me. My favorite guerrilla theologian Anne Lamott agrees: “The search is the meaning -- the search for beauty, love, kindness and restoration in this difficult, wired and often alien modern world,” she writes in her latest book Stitches. “The miracle is that we are here, that no matter how undone we’ve been the night before, we wake up every morning and are still here. It is phenomenal just to be.”

For sure! Yesterday I was kept “occupied with gladness of heart” by working on a project that a friend had asked about: could I create a finger labyrinth using fabric? (Labyrinths is a whole other subject I could blog about; some people walk labyrinths as a tool to help them pray or meditate. A finger labyrinth would be a small portable labyrinth you could “walk”  with your finger.) I tried different versions – beaded,  machine embellished,  embroidered -- and more. I loved what I was doing, and time flew by. I was occupied with gladness of heart.

And now I am sitting here telling you all about it, and that, too, is keeping me occupied with gladness of heart. So, I ask myself, if working with fibres and writing about your experiences, gives you so much joy, why on earth would you think about dropping CrowDayOne?

Oh. Did I just hear the Almighty, getting a word in edgewise?

The retreat is over, and the resident sweetie has taken up residence in the trailer with me to complete a wonderful week. The grandboys are coming for an overnight sleepover, and life is good.


  1. Oh I enjoyed this post

  2. Yipee! You've made me laugh (lots), sometimes you've made me cry, and sometimes you've challenged me. I'm so glad you're continuing.

    One of the '14' dedicated fans.