The Gift of the Sea: A Lesson in Solitude

The world today does not understand, in either man or woman, the need to be alone.  How inexplicable it seems. Anything else will be accepted as a better excuse. If one sets aside time for a business appointment, a trip to the hairdresser, a social engagement, or a shopping expedition, that time is accepted as inviolable. But if one says, I cannot come because that is my hour to be alone, one is considered rude, egotistical or strange. What a commentary on our civilization, when being alone is considered suspect, when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it—like a secret vice!  Actually, there are among the most important times in one’s life—when one is alone. Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone.”  The Gift of the Sea, p.44The beach invites us to re-think our lives. Such open spaces, unobstructed vistas and the ebb and tide of the waves make it possible to think about the trajectory of one’s life and if one likes the way they are headed. This is happening to me during our pilgrimage at the beach. Today, in reading The Gift of the Sea again, deep feelings surfaced within me.Solitude is something I was late in understanding in my life and work. After completing an under-graduate degree, three year graduate degree and work on my doctorate--I now realize that no teacher, preacher, mentor or friend introduced me to solitude until solitude came and found me in my broken estate.  Perhaps no one might really embrace solitude until they have to or might die. There, I realized that people could not energize my heart nor give water to my soul—only solitude could. What work could a preventative lesson in solitude offer leaders? This is what fuels my soul now to keep going at my work in Potter's Inn.Now I wonder why in all of my attempts to learn the things of God, to read the books about God and to listen to a thousand speakers talk to be for God was I not introduced to the need—no, the necessity of solitude. Some of us are too busy. Some of us live too much in our heads and some of us have stripped all the gears of our soul so that there is no slowing down at all. (In Chapter 3 of The Jesus Life, I show how Jesus lived his life in a rhythm of solitude, then engagement in his work).In all of our efforts to try to help people, one great injustice we are doing is not helping people understand the power of solitude. We have developed great programs to teach English as a second language; programs to dig wells, programs to do most everything except teach people the life giving way of Jesus, himself when he embraced solitude as a normal way to refuel is own soul and renew his heart’s purpose. We love our music and the tiny gadgets that provide the music, but what of the quiet? What of the Great Silence that men and women of old practiced every night—every night throughout their lives? But where has the voice been to speak to us about something as native to the soul as being quiet and knowing God. Even the Psalmist said, “Be still and know that I am God (Ps. 46:10). When then, is the church so quiet on teaching on such a vital subject as solitude?Something so vital, so necessary and so needed should not have to wait until we are broken, piled up in a heaping mess and desperate to stumble upon something so simple as solitude? It’s counter-intuitive isn’t it?  That through silence we hear what we cannot hear in any other way.In a compelling chapter that I read this morning from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s, The Gift of the Sea, (Chapter 3), I feel better equipped to answer the pleas of the woman in Baltimore and the man in Denver who complains, “My life is so full, how then can you expect me to do this—to practice quiet?”  I will now say, “It is not another additional thing you need to do in your life. It is THE essential thing we have to do to experience a sense of abundance in our life rather than feeling so empty, so depleted, so tired and worn out and calling that false life—the abundant life.

Day Two at the Beach: The Lesson of Retreat and Return

The bare beauty of the channeled whelk tells me that one answer, and perhaps a first step, is in simplification of life, in cutting out some of the distractions. But how? Total retirement is not possible. I cannot shed my responsibilities. I cannot permanently  inhabit a desert island. I cannot be a monk in the midst of family life. I would not want to be. The solution for me, surely, is neither in total renunciation of the world, nor in total acceptance of it. I must find a balance somewhere, or an alternating rhythm between these two extremes, a swinging of the pendulum between solitude and communion, between retreat and return. In my periods of retreat, perhaps I can learn something to carry back into my worldly life. I can at least practice for these two weeks the simplification of outward life, as a beginning. I an follow this superficial clue and see where it leads. Here in beach living, I can try.” TGOTS,  p. 24 Many, I know, myself included are living more of a divided life than a fulfilling one. More of a fragmented life, than a whole one. More of a posture of surviving than thriving. Yet, when one reads the very words of Jesus, himself—it is the sense of the abundance of life that we are in search of in our “one wild and precious life.”Here on my beach pilgrimage, I find myself yet again, asking the same questions: How can I make life work better? What am I doing wrong? What steps can I talk to live and cultivate the abundant life Jesus said could be mine? How can I live in the ebb and flow of life and not fight the current so much?Anne Morrow Lindbergh gives us a clue on Day Two of our Pilgrimage.  It is to embrace the alternating rhythms of life rather than digging into accepting the same ole—same ole.  The life that seems inescapable is actually just that—escapable and I must learn this and to escape more often. We need rhythm. I need this time at the beach. My soul is craving it. The sighs are too deep for words and my stare at the ebbing horizon shows me that my mind is still busy with all of the distractions that I packed up and brought here. How will we get all of this done? Can’t we take a break now? What will people think of us if we cocoon and re-emerge? Will we even want to re-emerge?Lindbergh coaches us to begin to simplify the outer world as the first step—to let go of the so many things that burden us. Our time obligations, our involvements, our meetings and to shed them the way the hermit crab sheds his shell. This is what one does on a true retreat. You remove yourself from the begging of people and begin to listen to the begging of one’s own heart—the begging from God, perhaps. In the shedding, there is freedom and the freedom is what we all want, I think. There is an ebb and flow in life and there is not always ebb--neither is there always flow. There is a rhythm to everything that has life and to stay alive and live alive, I have to learn to live in rhythm. (In Chapter 2 and 3 of The Jesus Life, I go into this in much more detail).You move into a simpler flow and cadence of life—then return to your world with all of the breathless living and the plaque of hurry-sickness. You learn to live in the rhythm of both ways of living—not just one. There is time for both and there must be time for both if one longs to live the undivided life—or as I am calling it, the Jesus life.  He lived in this rhythm and so must I. There is absolutely nothing attractive about a person lives a manic life in search of the peace that God gives through rhythm—through time—through retreat.I am glad to be reminded that the life of retreat and return is a crucial and vital cadence that we must live. Today, I must give myself permission to live at the beach; to let go of all I brought here and to rid myself of all the burdens I have carried here. They do not fit in the suitcase one packs to live at the beach for a few weeks.And I must remember that all of these burdens will be there for me to pack up and resume carrying when we leave this place. But for now, there must be the beach.  There must be rhythm. The mountains will be there when I get back. But for now, I must let go of my mental, spiritual, emotional and relational backback and prepare to receive the Gift of the Sea.

Sabbath Keeping

"The truth is, sabbath keeping is a discipline that will mess with you, because once you move beyond just thinking about it and actually begin to practice it, the goodness of it will capture you, body, soul and spirit...during the week, your whole self will strain toward the sabbath with thoughts like "I know I can make it because the sabbath is coming." You will emerge from sabbath with renewed energy and hop thinking, I can face my life now because I have rested. The sabbath will become the centerpiece of your work, the kingpin of your spiritual rhythms. And when even an hour of it is robbed from you, you will grieve its loss. When you miss it, it will hurt."--Barton in Spiritual Rhythms.To re-read these passages is a slow wake up call from a sense of urgency that has captivated me since we are now into the full new year. I look at my schedule and sigh--then say, "How can I possibly do all of this? What was I thinking when I committed to all of these things?"  Then I remember that Sabbath is God's provision for me to work hard-pour my heart out and give out to others. Because on the sabbath--it is I who will be given to.Now now the giving to me has begun.  A sabbath mood is in the Inn. We are here alone. Fire in the fireplace. A sabbath walk and life giving friends coming over for dinner. We need this day because tomorrow the work begins with two couples who are flying in from different parts of the world. They are nervous, scared probably at what they've gotten themselves into in committing to come--to do a soul care intensive. So we need this sabbath to serve them well. To give to them deeply. To raise up the chalice of our own lives and say, "O God fill this fragile vessel with all you will this sabbath day!"