This post is not about food for the body; rather it is about food for the soul…
This morning I attended a wonderful retreat. The topic was CONTEMPLATION. I feel so at peace after a morning well spent that I want to share my experience with you.
After a time of fellowship and some opening remarks about contemplation, some “instruction” about the handouts we were given to lead us in our quiet time if we so chose, and some information about breath prayer and visio divina, we scattered to find a spot for our quiet time.
I walked into the wooded part of the property near the creek, but not facing the water. As I was walking to ‘my spot’ I was struck by the beauty of the sea of blue flowers that awaited me in the “woods” and I was overcome by the urge to snap some photos. Now normally I would have my camera in the car; I rarely travel without it. But today I didn’t have it with me so I improvised with my cell phone.
I wanted to capture the beauty of my surroundings – almost as if capturing it on film would allow me to carry with me the feelings of calm, peace and serenity the environment evoked. So I snapped some pics and then found a comfortable spot to sit. I began my time of contemplation with my journal. I asked myself three questions that I ask when I am trying to slow my brain down and connect with God. The questions and my answers are as follows:
What do I hear? (I close my eyes and try to identify every sound I hear)
- Birds – many different birds. It sounds like they’re interacting, having a conversation with one another or perhaps they’re singing harmony.
- Cars and trucks passing on Rt. 81 and/or Rt. 114. It’s like an ebb and flow – they start out quiet, but as they get closer the sound grows. Then there is a crescendo and the sound fades as they grow distant. I can hear the trucks downshifting.
- A bee buzzing nearby
- An airplane overhead
- The intermittent tat-tat-tat of a woodpecker
What do I see that is from God?
- Blue flowers all around me
- Sunshine highlighting different things near me
- The roughness of tree bark
- The softness of newly growing moss
- Something I’m pretending is not poison ivy
- The sun glinting on the thin threads of a spider’s web
- Lots of green
- New growth and dry, dead leaves – contradictions
- Wild chives
- Walnut shells
- A bright red bug
What do I feel?
- The warmth of the sun on my skin
- The feel of the breeze on my neck and my arms
- Peace, calm
Asking these questions and focusing on the answers seems to quiet my brain and connect me with God.
Next, I opened my packet and read this quote by Henry David Thoreau:
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
Ok, if I’m being honest (and I am), I’ll admit that for a brief moment my mind flashed away from contemplation and to television because I recently heard this quote on an episode of Criminal Minds….oh, how easily the culture lures us from the presence of God. But fortunately after a split second, I was easily able to return to contemplation. (Sadly, this is not always the case).
I picked up my pen and my journal and began writing. What follows here is an excerpt of what I wrote in my time with God.
“God, thank you for the ability to see beauty around me. Not just when I’m in a lovely setting like this one; but when I’m in the ordinary or even in dark places. Thank you for the gift of appreciation – for the desire to look beyond the obvious and to see things from unusual perspectives…I love it when I walk outside and feel a deep gratitude for what I see – the sunlight or blue skies with puffy clouds or colorful leaves or pretty ferns or interesting buildings…
As I sit in one spot, there is so much to look at and I find it interesting that the longer I sit here the more I see things that I missed when I first got here.
When I first sat down I saw “the big picture” – the cut logs in a row, the chair, the bright blue flowers with bright green leaves and stems, the blue sky, the trees with chartreuse leaves.
But as I narrow my focus and allow myself to be immersed in my surroundings, my attention to detail becomes more clear – I see the small, the partially hidden – things like walnut shells tucked into the crevices between the tree trunks, the moss beneath the leaves and low growing plants, the dried leaves, the wild chives that blended in with the greenery at first, a tiny red bug hard at work, the rough texture of the tree bark vs. the smoothness of the cut surfaces of the logs near me, the tiny fairy plants, wild berry branches, the bark that has come loose from a tree and now looks like a bridge on the ground, the highlights and shadows that almost magnify the roughness of the tree bark.
And this shift in focus or narrowing of focus that happens the longer I sit here makes me wonder how much I miss every day because I’m so busy moving from one thing to the next – because I don’t take enough time in any one place to CONTEMPLATE all that is around me, to see the small.
What is this busyness causing me to miss? What am I sacrificing? What is the cost? Am I missing moments with You, God? Or moments of real presence with those around me?
Why do I try so hard to fill my time – my self – with busyness? Am I avoiding something? Am I avoiding you? Avoiding me? And if I am constantly trying to fill my time, myself with things/activities/tasks, then why do I sometimes resent them?”
I sat silently for a while after madly scribbling my thoughts above. I took some time to breathe, to see, to contemplate. I closed my eyes and listened to my own breathing and to the sounds around me.
Then I turned the page in my packet and was given (like a gift) the following from Henri Nouwen:
“As we look at the stars and let our minds wander into the many galaxies, we come to feel so small and insignificant that anything we do, or say, or think seems completely useless. But if we look into our souls and let our minds wander into the endless galaxies of our interior lives, we become so tall and significant that everything we do, say or think appears of great importance.
We have to keep looking both ways to remain humble and confident, humorous and serious, playful and responsible. Yes, the human person is very small and very tall. It is the tension between the two that keeps us spiritually awake.”
It surprises me – although it shouldn’t – that when I take the time to quiet myself, to remove distractions and to sit with God He answers me. Not in an audible way but like he did by giving me the Nouwen passage just when I needed it. Now you may think this is hokey and it may not be your “thing.” But writing out my questions and then reading the passage was like having a conversation with God. It was as if He was right there with me in real-time caring enough to speak to my concerns.
I continued to journal:
“I feel like this reading from Nouwen is God’s answer to the questions I asked about busyness, what I’m missing and why I can come to resent the things that keep me busy – even if they’re good things.
I think God’s answer is BALANCE. “We have to keep looking both ways to remain humble and confident.” I believe God is telling me that I have to continue to look at the big picture, the small details AND the middle ground. And that the REPETITION (a word God has given me more than once this week) is important – that it’s not keeping my focus in one place for too long, but rather the continual shift of focus that will lead to balance. Kind of like when we drive – we have to watch the road in front of us, but we also have to have a continual awareness of our rear view mirror and our side mirrors – we have to shift our focus from time to time to be effective drivers.”
And we also have to continually shift our focus from the external (the many galaxies) to the internal (our internal lives) and back again to be effective people. We cannot think only about the “doing” (the busyness that can lead to our resentment or our feeling small) – we must also contemplate the “being” (that which brings us significance). We need BALANCE between doing and being. And if I’m honest with myself, I find a temporary feeling of significance when I “do” – when I can check things off a list and meet or exceed the expectations of others. But it is a temporary feeling….
I could go on and on; but I won’t. I’ll close by sharing the words God gave me this morning and with my response to Him.
…for this time to rest in You.
…for meeting me here.
…for beauty and nature and beauty in nature.
…for other women with whom to journey.
…for the breeze on my arms.
…for the sunshine on my skin.
…for my senses.
….for your stirrings.
…for your answers.
…for my questions.
…for the time to slow down and just “be.”
…for your promises (Matthew 11:28).
…for your love.”
I hope you can find some time this week for CONTEMPLATION.