Most of our life happens in the routine of the day-to-day. Whether comforting, boring, easy, or thoughtless, the whole point of a routine is that we know what we will do and what we can expect. This is true for our relationship with God as well. Our regular spiritual practices anchor and sustain us in our daily life.
At the beginning of this year I experienced another kind of special time–a private retreat. Typically this would mean going away to a retreat center for a weekend, but instead I did it a little differently. Several mornings while I was staying with family in Thailand, I went by myself to a nearby retreat center.
I had worshipped at Seven Fountains on previous visits. I had even stayed overnight once after a transcontinental flight [in a very foggy jetlagged state which is not conducive for doing much except sleep]. But this was the first time I went there to be alone with God.
A spiritual director suggested I might walk through the prayer labyrinth. Although I had heard of it before, I had never come across it in all my wanderings through the grounds. But frankly the idea of praying while following a path has never appealed to me. [‘Labyrinth’ turns out to be a bit of a misnomer because it is not a maze. There is a single path to the center and back.]
However being out of one’s routine includes the opportunity to try new things. So when I found a booklet about the labyrinth at the welcome center, I decided to give it a try. I asked for directions and discovered the labyrinth was just beyond a sign I had always dutifully obeyed.
Since I am writing about the experience now, four months later, you probably won’t be surprised when I tell you doing this walk turned out to be one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life. The time I spent with God there [which I did at a snail’s pace] was so meaningful that I returned three more times.
Although I don’t think Jesus ever walked a prayer labyrinth, I think it is significant that the gospels record that he went away by himself to talk with the Father:
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35
But Jesus often withdrew to wilderness and prayed. Luke 5:16
After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Matthew 14:23
Solitude, wilderness, a mountainside–these are not part of my daily routine. But I am so thankful I was able to get away by myself and spend uninterrupted time with my Father. It changed me and months later I am still reaping the benefits.
I don’t know how often it would be good for me to do this. Should I should make it a routine?!? But I manage to go to the dentist once a year for a check-up, and to the doctor for an annual physical. I celebrate my birthday and our wedding anniversary every year too. So I think I can mark one day or one weekend a year to go off alone with God. Or following this year’s approach, I could even make a month of Saturday mornings or Sunday afternoons into a retreat time every January. Whatever I decide, I know God will be ready to meet me.
What about you?
How often do you go away on retreat?
Where have you gone to meet alone with God?
And if you ever end up in Chiang Mai, plan a special time at Seven Fountains