To Retreat or To Remain

To Retreat or To Remain

Detours in Life

Pentecost 106-115

Mega post #6


I have an affection for coffeehouses and the wave of humanity that comes ashore in them.   Although I usually order tea and not coffee, the throng of humanity found at a coffeehouse is delightful.  Add children to that and you have a writer’s mall for thoughts and conversations.  In short, at a recent visit, I found myself in a compositional heaven.  A recent visit solidified my penchant for both coffeehouses and children.


I had just sat down when I noticed the table across from me.  The grandparents were at what appeared to be their regular Bible Study/Social meeting and the young boy that had accompanied them was obviously a grandson.  His delight at the large-sized orange juice his grandfather had ordered for him was heart-warming.  “I’m gonna grow big and strong with this!” he exclaimed.  His grandmother offered him a spoonful of her coffee upon his request and the expression on his face made everyone laugh.  “That cannot be good for you.” He advised his grandmother.  “You need to drink more orange juice.”  [Somewhere the Minute Maid Company had just loss a great commercial idea.]


Introductions were made to the young lad as others joined their group.  I was impressed with the “adult” way they introduced themselves to him.  After all introductions were made, he then asked if he could repeat their names.  It was clear no one expected him to do so but he did.  Upon saying the name of the last person, his grandfather began to open their meeting.  The young boy politely told the grandfather he was not finished talking.  Chuckles were heard and the grandfather pointed out he had named everyone, correctly. 


The young boy looked around the coffeehouse and then leaned over to his grandfather.  “I just learned their names,” he explained.  Now I need to ask them something.”  The group seemed amenable so the grandfather sat back and encouraged his grandson to continue.  The wide young person then looked at the first he had named and asked:  “What are you?”  The gentleman began to say he was s retired teacher when the boy interrupted him.  “No, that is what you did.  What are YOU?”


I recently attended a retreat and this week I found myself wondering something similar.  That is the question I hope you ask yourself this week.  What are you?  In past series we delved into the question “Who are you?” in our attempt to improve and grow some self-love.  This week we cannot improve our self-worth without knowing what we are.  More importantly, what do you want to be?


Any good gardener knows there are various things that need to be done in the process of growing a garden.  There is the cultivating and tilling of the soil, preparing the soil, nurturing the soil with water and perhaps fertilizer and plant food.  The list might seem endless to a non-gardener but to those who believe in growing things, the list is simply a part of daily life.  Essential to gardening, though, is knowing what one is planting.


I have stated here that I do not have a “green thumb”; that is to say, my talents do not include being a master gardener.  The truth is that I can grow a nice garden, whether it is flowers or vegetables.  What hinders my success in gardening is my lack of interest in learning about the plants themselves.  I can bore you to no end about the difference between a xylophone and a marimba because I am interested in those things.  The nutritional needs and their differences between a cauliflower and a bell pepper hold no interest for me at all.  For one thing, I am allergic to bell peppers and mildly so to cauliflower.  Ask me about tomatoes, though, and I am right there with answers.  You see, I adore tomatoes. 


Life cannot be lived just eating tomatoes, though.  While they hold great nutritional value for our bodies, we do need other things.  I have come to learn how to grow carrots and cabbage, lettuce, spinach, and kale, and attempt to grow beans, although pole beans and legumes are still at the “getting to know you” stage with my gardening skills.  Corn and I have an on-again-off-again relationship and I have never attempted fruit trees although I do love to eat their bounty. 


Clearly, if I had to grow my own food I could survive but I would have to alter my eating habits and pray for good health and weather.  I rely a great deal on the convenience of shopping at local markets and stores.  I can grow an avocado plant but cannot get it to bear fruit.  Life for me without avocadoes is unthinkable and I am grateful for imports from other states and neighboring countries.  The same is true for olives.  I am something of a cheese-a-holic and yet, having a herd of cattle and goats would not yield me any cheese homemade.  Again, I am grateful for those for whom making cheese is a talent they share.


When it comes to growing my soul, I also rely on others.  I myself can only do so much based upon my skills and knowledge.  I reference many things and listen to many people.  Just as with an actual gardening, there needs to be some weeding out of the information we have available.  Not everything is beneficial and unfortunately some people are more interested in creating followers than helping people grow.  Albert Camus once wrote: “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”  This past weekend I did just that.  My retreat was in a beautiful country, wooded setting and no cell phones or electronic devices were allowed.  Time was something measured jokingly with a ruler.


It may sound funny but I took the time to be on a retreat to make sure that I did not remain, getting stuck in the whirlwind that our lives can become.   I agree with Anna White and this quote from her book “Mended: Thoughts on Life, Love, and Leaps of Faith” when she writes “I want my heart to be the thin place. I don’t want to board a plane to feel the kiss of heaven. I want to carry it with me wherever I go. I want my fragile, hurting heart, to recognize fleeting kairos, eternal moments as they pass. I want to be my own mountain and my own retreat.”


Kairos is a Greek word dating back to antiquity and it refers to an opportune moment, that right and critical moment in time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a critical action.   Many times we are so busy reacting to the world that we fail to take the time to deliberate about our actions and what they represent.  We are so busy being that we lose sight of what we are or would like to be.


My three days plus seven hours were not a time of hearing but rather a time of listening.  To be sure there were presentations and discussions but there were also times of meditating and truly hearing what all of creation was offering.  The serene setting, fullness of life experienced, and the sharing of emotional, spiritual, and physical gifts were encouragement to move forward, not just remain caught in the busyness of everyday living. 


I hope this week you find your own sources of nurturing to help you grow in this endeavor we call living.  Sometimes we must retreat from life to move forward in our living.  Take a detour from your usual path and you might just find yourself.   More importantly, I hope you find and increase your self-worth and are then able to answer to the question:  What am I?

Pentecost 129

Pentecost 129
My Psalm 129

The Growing Season

For half of the planet we are in what is termed the harvest season. For the other half we are beginning the planting season. Both are important facets of the growing season, that period of time when conditions are such that plants experience the most growth. Distance from the equator, climate, elevation of the area are just some of the factors involved as is the crop being planted. Some plants will “take” or germinate at one specific temperature while others require a higher temperature.

The growing season is also known agriculturally as the frost-free season. Drawing an analogy between a plant’s growth and our own, I think many would agree that there are times where personal growth is difficult and often, those times occur when we experience a type of “frost” from our peers.

Nature has four seasons – spring, summer, autumn, and fall. Do our lives have similar seasons? A plant needs all four seasons for a variety of reasons. Spring is the time for birth in all and in summer and autumn we reap the harvest. Depending on the plant, perennials need the winter to renew and restore so that in the spring new buds can appear and flowers and fruits again are evident. Annuals need the winter to complete their life cycle. Although we see only a dead plant, the annual is slowly returning to the soil from whence it came, the nurturing environment that allowed it to flourish.

Economist and ordained minister Jerry Robinson explains it this way. “In congruence with nature, every Christian will experience four different seasons in their walk with God. Each season presents its own set of benefits and challenges. Our ability to determine which season we are in at all times will require an acute sharpness of spirit. But rest assured, sharpness of spirit is a worthy goal.”

Robinson sees the season of spring as a time of cleansing and transition and references a need for spiritual pruning and regrowth. Summer, he says, is marked by dryness and a need for spiritual food. Summer is often a time of “stumbling”, states Robinson. Autumn or fall for Robinson is a time of harvest and transition in which a need for correction is often evident. Winter for Robinson is when inner growth occurs and represents a time of maturing and strengthening.

I would suggest that perhaps our seasons are dependent upon our peers and our lifestyle choices. Certainly as the weather becomes warmer we tend to be more social but does that mean the coldest season of winter has no purpose? Alfred Lord Tennyson, England’s Poet Laureate for half a century in the 1800’s, penned in his poem “Locksley Hall”, “In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” Victor Hugo wrote “Winter is above me but eternal spring is in my heart.”

Canadian leadership guru Wayne MacNamara discusses the types of seasons of growth we experience. “Throughout my life and my business I have had many different seasons; seasons of happiness, seasons of grief, seasons of explosion, and seasons of frustration. Everyone goes through these different seasons in all areas of their life, business owners or not. While the seasons of happiness and growth are exciting, the down seasons are full of lessons that build our character and will power. I am so thankful for these ‘down’ seasons because it is there that I have been able to see the most growth in myself. However, the ‘up’ seasons are definitely the most fun and energizing. Summer is such an awesome time of the year. The sun is out, golf courses are open and I get to hang out with all my friends more than I do all year. It has also always been my favorite season for building my business, and often ends up being a season of explosion for myself and business partners.

Each season we live has its value and all our life experiences are lessons to help us grow. Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted as saying: “To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child or a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition, to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

Our daily hours of growth, our yearly season of life are all part of a larger planting that enables us to grow as individuals and as a community. Some things we plant will grow and flourish while others will simply become attempts that were worthy for what we learned. Michelangelo provided impetus for continued plantings in our personal growth. “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

Whether you are planting, experiencing, harvesting, or preparing for the new growing season, it is important to keep growing. The harvest is not in being better than another but in being the best we each can be. We don’t need to worry what someone else is planting or if they try to ruin us. The key is to keep cultivating new growth. As the Hindu proverb states, “There is nothing noble in being superior to some other man. The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self.”

My Psalm 129
Creator and Supreme Being of all,
Life source of all existence:
You walk beside me with each step I take.
You see the wounds upon my soul.
You know the furrows of despair I have experienced.
Your love dries my tears.
Your spirit within me sustains my living.
Your mercy uplifts me.
Your grace is my compass.
The wicked will walk alone.
The believer walks in your shadow.