By Fran Lavelle
The first week of June many lay people from across the diocese participated in the Pastoral Ministries Workshop at Lake Tiak O’Khata in Louisville. A feature of the workshop is an optional retreat. One morning I was sitting on a porch with a few of the retreatants.
During our reflection and conversation a dove gracefully flew into a nearby tree and remained there until a few minutes before we closed our session with prayer. Thankfully all three of us saw this most welcome visitor. I have been told that I am not the greatest birder in the family and may have mistaken the dove for an egret. I assure you, it was a dove, and its presence was powerful.
The presence of the dove reminded me of the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, but it also reminded me that it was in our slowing down that we were able to see the gift that God had blessed us with that morning. Retreats are to the soul what good nutrition is to the body. Without feeding ourselves good food our bodies suffer. The same can be said for our spiritual life. Left unattended they no longer produce good fruit.
One of the things we reflected on during our time together was the need to create touch tones in our lives, regardless of our state of life or vocation, to heighten our awareness of God’s directing presence in our daily living. By touch tones I mean a physical reminder of a spiritual awareness that we have experienced.
I shared with the group what had happened to me about a month ago. I was on my way to Jackson and had a long list of things on my “to do” list. Maintaining a life in Starkville, working out of an office in Jackson and serving the people in a diocese the geographic size of ours had left me feeling like I was not serving God well.
Exasperated, I asked God, “Where are you in all of this?” A few miles pass. The thought came to me, if I were on the receiving end of defibrillators what would be going through my mind? I thought for a minute and was filled with gratitude for my family, the beautiful farm of my youth in Ohio, the amazing people I have met along the journey, the blessings of ministry, the love shared and the beautiful family that has been knit together from all these experiences.
These are the things that matter. The touch tone has become a physical touch on my heart during the times when I feel overwhelmed by life’s demands. That physical touch reminds me of the things that matter. It is a simple gesture but it moves me from anxiety to peace.
What are some of the ways you remind yourself to remain focused on the important stuff? I have a friend who uses music to keep her centered on God. Whenever she begins to feel stressed she listens to her favorite gospel radio station. Quotes from our spiritual heroes can also be used as a touch tone. A well placed quote on the bathroom mirror or a prayer card in our bible can serve as a reminder to keep our eyes fixed on the Beloved.
My favorite St. John of the Cross quote comes to mind, “In the evening of life we will be judged on love alone.” When I find myself short on patience or quick to judge this quote reminds me that love is my only option.
The folks who joined me on retreat all work for the church in a leadership role. But the conversations we shared each morning would be applicable to anyone who is serious about developing a more intimate relationship with God.
All our meaningful relationships depend on our ability to be present, listen, act with sincerity and appreciate the other. Just as our human relationships need this kind of care so too does our relationship with God. Personal retreats give us the opportunity to reconnect with God. To sit quietly and ask for nothing but the time to be present, fully present.
When was the last time you went on a retreat? For some the answer may take us back to confirmation several decades ago or perhaps to a college retreat. For some the answer may be never. Having recently returned from directing this retreat I was left with the profound awareness that retreats are not only helpful in our faith journey but necessary if we are to fully embrace a loving relationship with God.
If you have never taken a retreat or if it has been years since you did, I am not admonishing you in any way. Rather, I hope to encourage you to take the time away and nurture your relationship with God. If you work in ministry, paid or volunteer, participating in a retreat for yourself is the best gift you can give the people you serve. If you are interested in learning more about retreats, feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)