My participation in Oasis’ Journey into Silence began with two
days and nights of prayer, silence and solitude spent journaling, wandering
and re-collecting myself. Then I returned
home to the ocean of intensity, chaos and noise that typifies life with four
I jumped in
at the deep end and came up paddling hard like an Olympic swimmer. My husband I stayed afloat by
working side by side or in shifts as the
weeks and days rolled over us like crashing waves. There were bouts of strep-throat for the
older two, a sinus infection for another and, later a sinus infection for
me. Bone-rattling coughs shook the house
and breathing treatments were doled out morning, noon and night. There was a camping trip, preaching, writing
and field trips and my husband finally had his wisdom teeth removed.
My bags sat unpacked, my notebooks unopened and when the
time came for the following months’ retreat I felt unprepared and guilty for
having gotten so wrapped up in the demands of day-to-day life. I’d read only a few chapters of the assigned
book, my papers were out of order,
scattered, and I’d missed one assigned reading altogether.
I ran through the house the morning of looking for books and
scanning the few chapters I had read hoping to have something to add to the
discussion. I riffled through the jumble
of clothes in my dresser looking for anything clean enough to wear that might also
help me feel like I was anything more than the disheveled, exhausted mother I
felt myself to be.
* * * *
As I settled into the stillness and quiet that morning, I
wondered what on earth I was doing there, how I could seek and find silence in
a life stage that seemed so far removed from the contemplative. As I wondered the following true story was
shared . . .
There once were two neighbors who owned two plots of land
that converged in the woods that spread across their two properties without
concern for boundary lines. Both men loved
their land, but they loved it in different ways.
The one, I’ll call him the man who prayed, had a vision for
his land to become a place for people to gather and be fed spiritually. He built a small retreat center made of
re-purposed lumber and found objects and he filled the woods around it with
wandering trails for contemplation that led slowly, gradually down to the
waters’ edge; the water that, like the woods, flowed past both properties,
paying no heed to the surveyor’s red flags.
The other man, I’ll call him the man who hunted, also loved
his land, but had a different vision for it. It would be a place
for family to gather, children and grandchildren hunting, fishing, and playing
together. So he slowly and carefully built
his way toward his vision too which also included paths that wound their way through
The man who prayed and the man who hunted had their
differences. Occasionally the man who
hunted shot at a duck or some other animal which irked the man who prayed and
on occasion visitors to the retreat center wandered, uninvited, onto the
neighbors land which irked the man who hunted.
Mostly, though, they got along and their two separate visions
Then one day the man who prayed had the idea that they might
join together the trails that crisscrossed the two properties. He approached the man who hunted and made his
proposal and though the exchange was friendly, there was no reply and the issue
lay unresolved for quite some time. He
assumed the answer was no and time flowed on like the water in the creek and
the changing of seasons.
Then, one day, the man who prayed was out in his yard, down
by the water’s edge, when he heard his neighbor calling out to him through the
woods. “Yes?” he replied.
“Well, our paths are joined,” the neighbor said. Then, after a pause, he added, “The deer did it
* * * *
Later in the morning we were asked to share what we were
leaving behind in order to attend the day’s retreat. When my turn came I blurted, almost without
thinking, “Incessant work.” Then the tears came and my voice choked as I added,
“I’m so exhausted.” It came out like a
confession or, perhaps, a repentance and the silence of the room, the eyes that
watched and witnessed, the ears that heard the break in my voice, all of these
absorbed and stood with me silently in my relinquishment.
Then came a time of prayer and as I sat with my eyes closed
it came to me all at once, a memory from earlier in the week when I’d stood in
our dinning room that glowed with the waning afternoon sun. I froze in mid-motion, between cleaning and
carrying and cutting bits of food for the twins, fetching drinks and silverware
and refills for everyone. Having reached
my limit I stopped and turned toward my husband, my hands and my voice
automatically raised for emphasis as I proclaimed, “Just once, I would like to
have a meal where I’m not getting up and down ten times. Do you know how long it’s been since I had
I sat in the stillness of the retreat and tears began to run
down my cheeks as I remembered that in just a few short, quiet hours I would be
eating a meal that was prepared for us, for me, by the owner of the retreat
center. I would sit in silence looking
out over the water, watching the falling leaves, tasting my food and rising
only when I was ready. I hadn’t known
that my outburst in the kitchen was a prayer, but here it was, already, answered.
Oh my, did I relish that lunch (which I also wrote about HERE). We ate in a lovely windowed porch area
overlooking the sunlit stream, watching as leaves fell from the trees, then
continued their journey on the surface of the water. I savored it all – the salad coated in a
creamy peanut butter dressing and topped with crunchy nuts, the perfectly
creamy squash soup that warmed my bowl and hands and body inside and out, and
the apple pear cobbler topped with a crunchy topping and whipped cream. And when I saw the slices of bread already
buttered, I wanted to cry, to get down on my knees and say, “Thank you, thank
you, thank you.”
* * * *
What am I trying to say here? I’m almost not sure myself, except that I’d
slipped back into believing the old, old myth that life in the world has nothing
to do with the life of the spirit. It
was as though I’d begun to believe that the body and spirit are two parcels of
land that sit side-by-side, but whose paths never meet.
But the meal, the silence, and the beauty of the woods in
the dying-off of fall reminded me that the life of the spirit IS the life of
the body, the two are one and the same and for this we might all fall to our
knees saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” For we are bodily beings and we live in a world
filled with physical demands on our time and space and energy and if we have no
hope of finding God there, in the midst of our working, breathing, laying down
to sleep lives, then we have so little hope.
The life of the body and the life of the spirit may indeed
be two plots of land that lay side-by-side and goodness knows they get out of
balance from time to time, but the truth is they are connected. The grace that surprised me so on that
morning was the way that God wove the two together into one for me without my even knowing it, like the deer wove those two trails
together, like the woods that grew unhindered between the two properties, like
the creek that nourished the roots of both without distinction.
If you liked this post, you may also like They Are Eating My Prayers.