In a couple of weeks I am doing something that has me wondering, “What have I gotten myself into?!!”
I’m going to a “spiritual retreat”. And seriously, I’m not sure why I’m going. I’m bewildered that I’m actually going to go through with this.
The idea of THIS spiritual retreat freaks me out. First, because I’m gonna be the dunce there. Sure I have 20 years of “churching” under my belt, and some additional years of getting it more right than wrong. But I’m still not like others. People will look at me and think, “Who let religious dummy in?” Because I don’t know all the scripture they do, I don’t know all the hymns, and I certainly haven’t read all “those books” that they have. In fact, here’s a little secret – you know, just between you and me – I’m not reading the “recommended reading” for the retreat. I’m really bad right? But I swear, I just can’t read another “hard book” – I just got done with one reallllly hard book, and honestly I’m not due for another one for at least six months. What I am due for is a little Steven King, Anne Lamott, or Anchee Min. And I’ve got to tell you, the fact that you can go to this retreat and take a vow of silence for the week, and you get a special name tag that states you’re a “no talker” – I mean dang, I am so out of my league! Those are the super holy ones! They love God more than me, because they are giving up talking, one of my favorite things.
Do you think I should bow to them when they walk by? I’m just askin’… And you know what, watch God pull a funny one on me when I come down with laryngitis that week. God has funny ways of getting me still, silent, on my knees, and listening.
Aside from all that, here’s the biggest reason I’m freaked out. I’m pretty sure you have to go into a sweat lodge, where there is funky smoke and spiritually chanting in Latin; and before long everyone is naked and at one with God and His creation dancing around a campfire to beating drums. Maybe there will be snake handling!
Did I just say that out loud?
Okay, that probably won’t happen – I mean, that better NOT happen! Except the chanting in Latin (Lectio Divina), which is on the agenda, and is something I’ve never done before, and it will be…different. But what I’ve learned about retreats that have any sense of spiritual overtone, is that you do have to get naked if you plan to get anything out of it. And by naked, I mean getting emotionally naked with God…around other people.
The focus of this retreat is developing a deeper relationship with Jesus. And on the surface that sounds great! We all want to be a little closer to Christ. But again, the process always requires some amount of nakedness. For some of us stubborn strong-willed girls, it usually takes painful amounts.
You would never know it by the picture for this post, because as a little girl – running around naked was great fun, but now I am terribly TERRIBLY modest. I’m not fond of being naked. It’s my worst nightmare. Maybe it comes from my upbringing, maybe it’s being self-conscience about my body, maybe it comes from Eve (oh right, it does, it really does). Anyways, naked is not my thing, physically or emotionally. I’m not saying I like to wear a mask and be something I’m not; putting on a false emotional front – because that is much more exhausting than just being myself. But at a retreat, sometimes you can’t even be neutral, because God draws you close and your nakedness breaks out and then you break down. It’s humbling. It’s über naked.
At a recent retreat I attended, I had a break down bawling experience. Not once, but twice. Thankfully, one of those moments was in my room (that, again thankfully, I had to myself). I laid on the concrete floor sobbing, and didn’t even care that the floor was covered in germs. It was one of those moments when God found a way to use my circumstances (a raging fever,1400 miles away from home, at an altitude of 7000 ft above sea level) to get me humble and on my knees; I had no one to depend on except Him. The other time I was in front of others, in a little chapel. It was “come to Jesus” night, and I voluntarily drank the proverbial spiritual Kool-aid. And when you do that, what comes next seems natural and fine. Most everyone, even back to the days of being a kid and going to camp, we all did/and do weird spiritual stuff that is not our normal within the magic of the moment. And outside of those venues, our actions are a little…embarrassing; and we even feel a little shame; and we tend to not share this stuff with others that weren’t there – because there is no way they could understand that in that moment, that nakedness, it was awesome. There are hands raised in the air and crying and everyone is geting a little Jesus freaky weird. Some people even talk in tongues, and that’s something I really don’t understand – but it’s interesting to say the least.
So, looking back, on those times, I start thinking, “am I gonna do that again at this retreat?” And it has me uncomfortable. It feels exhausting. I’m already emotionally spent and worn out. And I don’t have any desire to be naked right now; I don’t want to ride any type of new emotional rollercoaster that comes with a spiritual retreat. I don’t want to share, and I don’t want to feel any type of shame.
As I’m writing this, it’s only been a week since I stopped seriously vacillating on going or backing out of this retreat. I could come up with a zillion reasons to not go, including my two fears above. And that’s when it came to me, when God said to his first two children, “who told you, you were naked?” (Gen 3:11) My heart told me that God really wanted to know, who told me I was a spiritual dunce, that I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t good enough, and that I should feel any fear, anxiety, or shame with emotional nakedness. God wanted to know, who told me this retreat would be too hard to bear when all it should be is me accepting a hug and melting into His shoulder. And that’s when I knew to go. But to go FREELY. Go with no pretenses of how it will be or what I should get out of it. Don’t read the suggested book, don’t get freaked out about the various classes/tracts I’m to go to, don’t worry about the chanting, don’t worry about what others think of my red flashes of hair and tattoos, don’t worry about thinking this isn’t for me. Just go. Because there is something for me at that retreat, even if it is only down on the beach and not in a class or chapel. And if I slip out of the itinerary to be down on the beach – it won’t matter – because God has a way of getting to me. Even if it’s on the beach with a cup of wine; I’m very sure I’ll be met there with a type of nakedness I can stomach.