This is part of a series; to get the whole picture, read the previous two entries and the next one.
One of the Key elements of every retreat has been the sharpening of my desire for God’s presence in a setting which emphasises his absence. This year was no exception. The following quotes from my journal illustrate this:
Retreat 2008: Day 2 (Morning) The weather is blustery and there is a good deal of rain. I attempted a walk in the late morning but turned back when I got to the river. I don’t feel weak, but easily tired and a little depressed. Very mild hunger. I want warmth more than food. I dislike the sluggishness and torpor I feel and I dislike being trapped by the weather. Where is the clarity that is supposed to come with cleansing? Where is the room in which to stretch my legs and enjoy Christ’s presence – his horizons and heavens, and not this dull little room? I feel imprisoned.
(Later) Sitting, making a desultory attempt to meditate, I became impatient and said, “I know you are here!” – meaning “Why don’t you show yourself?!” A shaft of sunshine caught my eye. I could finally go outside. But where? The tide is up and the waves are beating across the road. Up the trail I hacked last year through the bush to the old Pa site. Off I went, through mud and tangles to the top. Carefully; the track was slippery, the stream was roaring beside me, and I was alone.
Finally to the top; what is there? Sky and horizon. Trees obscure my vision in every direction. Mud. Where is God? Where is his Word? In nature, in the scriptures, in the gurgling of my guts I can, by faith, pick out God’s voice. But what I want is the immediate presence, the un-interpreted voice of God.
I know, theoretically, that this is foolish. I could not stand in his unmediated presence; his splendour, his Holiness. Also, I know in my head that he has chosen incarnate revelation, coming to us as bodily presence; discernable by faith – and rejectable by unbelief.
It is my unbelief, my doubt that desires the completely clear, unequivocal experience of God.
And yet, there is in it also that good hunger for God that has brought me here in the first place. Yes, I want the benefits of Sabbath rest and obedience; but more than all, I just want more of God in my life!
Retreat 2008: Day 3 (Morning) The sun is out. I walked to the far end of the second beach, heading into a strong wind, and re-consecrated myself to Christ, in his death and resurrection. Came back with sun and wind behind me. I am tired, as though I have worked very strenuously, and my limbs ache.
Before I went walking I read Zechariah. Why have I never noticed before how much of Christ is in there?!! I asked for him to reveal himself. He has shown me my need for repentance (this, last night before sleeping), shown me himself in the scriptures, and come to me today in wind and sunshine. If there is no more of Christ, this is already a feast.
(Later) The power went off for about an hour. The sun is gone and the light is going. Tide’s in, wind’s up, may be rain later. I ache a little and have occasional very mild stomach cramps, but can’t really call myself uncomfortable. I feel bright enough, if not exactly bouncy.
(Early Evening) There is a big mirror over the bench where I keep my bible and paper. I was looking around for something to draw when I caught sight of my own face. Ok then; self-portrait. As I sat and studied the face in front of me, I became aware that I had been avoiding that mirror up till now. Why? Dislike for narcissism? Or I don’t want to face myself? If I can find Christ everywhere else, is he to be found in my face too?
(Night) Fell asleep very quickly, then woke again around 11.00 p.m. After some hours lying awake I thought to write a letter to God. Got no further than the date and “Dear God” before I stopped. Felt that it would be merely another layer of conceit and deceit on my part, when I know he is here, even though I do not see him. For a similar reason much of my praying has been silent, so that I am not distracted to merely admire my own voice.
God, I am empty and alone. I need you. That is the whole truth.