On Personal Retreat
There is a weariness that sleep cannot refresh. That weariness comes not from physical fatigue, but from an estrangement of souls and animus of spirits with others. There is a weariness in being with others in community, as imperfect as we are. God’s call to community had led to a outward sojourn that became inward. During these latter years in a Season of Pentecost, I walked away from professional ministries as seminary professor and church pastor and retreated to a solace of solitude. At my sunset years, I morphed into a “monk at retreat.” It was not a decision unexpected. Between the seminary’s institutional impiety and the institutional church’s ineptitude, any residue of endeavor for involvement is gone. I was simply spent.
Into communities, I had entered with great anticipations. In “Life Together,” Bonhoeffer offers that we do not choose nor change our life together with others. Our community is what it is and isn’t what it isn’t. When we enter life together with others, we must find a sense of belonging and participate in its life and work. I did not choose those in community and they did not choose me. Yet my sense of belonging could not help but anticipate life-together’s aggregation.
Intuitively, my existential neediness sought four common graces when with others: loyalty, conversations, sensibility and quietude. Loyalty is that common grace that rises above our flawed personality and imperfect temperament. It is an unconditional acceptance and a mutual stick-to-it-ness to those we are stuck with. For community to share a commonality of meanings and significance , common conversations are that fresh air that refreshes life together. Only veracious
words can provide clarity to that given murkiness of differences in views, values and unspoken expectations . Social sensibility is that common courtesy we extend to the otherness of others. St Paul’s let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others, informs that sensitivity. Quietude is a common serenity that we need to craft and ought to possess when with others. Regardless of whom we are with, only a shared taciturnity can nurture a calmative contemplation – a shared space with one another, and with God.
The discord of life together had robbed us of these common graces. I had lost that confidence in and for community. Our shared pathos is too much for this pathos-laden soul. As I grew older, it was increasingly, excruciatingly difficult to practice life together with others. It would take a saint to dwell among sinful people. Abba Matoes confesses that, It is not through virtue that I live in solitude, but through weakness, those who live in the midst of men are the strong ones. This early church hermit’s transparency gives me courage, and credence, to retreat from community. I share his emotive weakness and admit in a social laziness for communal encounters. The fabric of my spirituality is too flimsy to portage that heavy burden of human relationships.
Don’t misunderstand! I besot solace of solitude not because I feel superior to others or no longer believe in community. Living with others has been an enduring endeavor. My soul is weary of community. Yet when alone, in those lonely moments, I feel unfulfilled without companions, with whom to share intimate bread. Loneliness is self-evident that our Creator has created us for others. We would be incomplete, inadequate and unfinished without others. But in time, there is that weariness that sleep nor rest can refresh. In my sunset years, to retreat from others seems the only acumen. And yet in solace of solitude, there is still that visceral need for friendships. It is an innate need divinely bestowed. I may retreat from community most often. But when alone with the alone, my arms are requite to welcome others into my contemplation – a shared space for communion.