“There is a
castle on a cloud,
I like to go
there in my sleep . . .
shouts or talks too loud,
not in my
castle on a cloud.”
Today is a
headache day. It’s there from the moment
I wake up – pressure in my forehead and sinuses that extends around to the back
of my head into my neck and shoulders.
babysitter comes I’m sitting on the floor surrounded by wiggling people. I’m trying to wrestle a onesie onto a baby as
my pre-schooler performs gymnastics half-on/ half-off of the couch. The oldest is bopping back and forth on the
rocking chair as another baby teeters trying to hold onto it. My head’s pounding and I can’t think
straight, can’t make a plan.
asks where I’m going, I have no reply because I haven’t thought that far
ahead. I only have about an hour and a
half before I need to round everyone up for swim lessons. I grab the laptop and my journal and make a
quick exit, stammering instructions as I leave.
No one even gets a hug. Mommy has
got to go, NOW.
neighbors or the drivers of passing cars looking up to see me flying out the
door, hair frizzed-out from the heat, clutching my gear as the twins crawl
after me and Solomon stands at the screen door calling a cheery, “Bye bye Mamma. Bye!”
I imagine I look like someone fleeing a burning building as I throw my
things into the van, pop it into drive and squeal-out not yet knowing where I’m
I head to
the local college library, not more than a few blocks from our house. I can maximize my time this way, by not
driving across town to Panera or a local coffee shop. Every second counts.
I find a
nice parking spot right in front of the library. It’s beautiful here. Tall, old trees, fully leafed out for
summer. A fresh green lawn and the
beautiful library full of windows and light and silence.
better even as I open the door to walk in.
It’s cool and quiet with the humming of the air conditioner providing a
steady pulse under it all. I head past
the café where a sign explains that turning left will lead to a “semi-quiet”
area, while turning right leads to pure silence. I turn right and follow signs toward the
quiet area like a starving person follows a path of crumbs.
is still there, but the effect of the silence is immediate. It’s like aloe on sunburn, cool and smooth,
calming. It’s as though some part of me
that’s been holding its breath relaxes and lets out a long, heavy sigh.
* * * * *
* * * * *
needed this sort of retreat, always felt this way about libraries, academia and
books, using them as a refuge from the intensity and volume of life. I remember
meeting with a professor when I was in graduate school. His office was on the top floor of an old
brick home on the edge of campus that was used for faculty offices. I climbed narrow stairs covered by faded and
decidedly un-prestigious old carpet to a large attic-like room. Two more stairs and through the door and
there sat his desk with a large window behind it filled with the leafy green
branches of a tree. I imagined myself
sitting there – reading, writing, pausing to peer out at the world below – and
I loved it.
Not long ago
a seminar revealed that my personality type uses cognitive activity as a way to
recharge and regroup. An observant
friend noted the same thing after listening to my life story, “You retreat into
your mind when life gets overwhelming.”
Suddenly I saw the Sudoku and crossword puzzles, the endless reading,
the love of libraries and their contents in a new light.
I used to
feel very torn between academia and the nitty-gritty of everyday life. The ivory tower is much maligned by those
working in the trenches and I’ve often found myself vacillating between the
two. I don’t believe in the value of
what some would call pure academia cut off from the ebb and flow, the flux and
tumult of everyday life. I refuse to
climb the staircase of my mind expecting to find there the answer to all life’s
questions. And yet, I love, enjoy, crave
the retreat it offers. The space it
gives to look at life, to sort through the onslaught of thoughts and feelings
that accumulate as I race along through the day.
felt guilty about this, even ashamed. I
was teased as a child about “hiding my nose in a book” and my need to spend
long hours quietly making order of my little room in our house on a hill in the
leafy woods. But more than all of that,
somewhere along the way I believed the lie that to be holy meant to be busy, to
be fully immersed in the hustle and bustle, the suffering and relief of life
without flinching or pausing to look away for even a second.
I can see
now that I will constantly straddle two worlds.
I’m not content to sit in my tower day in and day out thinking deep
thoughts – too many people need me in more ways than I can count. But I’m also beginning to understand that
times of retreat are essential to my ability to provide a real presence when I
engage with the “crowds,” whoever they may be.
this, of course. Retreating to a garden or
hill or even, if need be, to a small boat in the middle of a lake. Luke tells us that “Jesus often withdrew to
lonely places and prayed (5:16).” Surely
no one’s time and presence has been or ever will be more in demand than the son
* * * * *
It occurs to
me that I cannot steer my little ship full of children safely or wisely when
I’m constantly drowning. So, with much
grace, I re-imagine my departure from the house. I’m not a woman fleeing in desperation,
shaking off children and tripping on scattered toys as I lunge for the
door. Instead I try to see myself as
Christ, edging his way toward the shore and stepping with purpose into a small
fishing boat. Pushing off even as the
crowd presses in, hardly waiting for Thomas or Peter to climb in as the bottom
of the boat breaks free from the sand.
Leaving the chaos of the crowds for the chaos of the sea, but finding in
the tiny boat the space to simultaneously disconnect and reconnect.
The van is
my boat and the curb is the shore. The
library is my “secluded place” and this writing is my prayer. This retreat takes me not out of the world,
but deeper into it to the place beneath the wave tossed surface where love and
joy and grace reside. I paddle out deeper
into the cool dark waters to the place where I might find, we all might find,
the one thing that’s needed.
I wonder, where do you go to retreat, where do you both disconnect and reconnect?