Retreat 2008: Day Four

This entry is part of a series; to get the full picture, read the previous three entries…


This day was composed of three distinct parts; a morning meditation, a walk shortly before noon, and another in the early afternoon.  My journal entries reflect the ongoing journey, starting from that point of emptiness that was the last impression of the previous day.

Morning: My Poverty and God’s Riches.  I sat outside and watched the sunlight sweep across the firth, creep down the pohutukawa, and light up the rocks.  After a while, thinking about my emptiness and poverty before God, I realised that I didn’t like the idea.  I resented it.  I want to be rich and full.  Why should I be empty?  The answer was immediate: so that I can enjoy God’s riches.  Those things that I take to myself of my own accord and for myself become barriers between me and God.  Those things which I receive with thanksgiving from his hand are truly his gifts; good for me and good for the building up of the kingdom – and most importantly they do not come between us.

Because they come to me from God, his gifts do not create any anxiety in me; I need not fear that he will see me with something I oughtn’t to have and take it off me.  When I take something for myself without owning it as his gift, I become defensive of it, and afraid of losing it.  Thanksgiving to God makes me more able to be generous and prevents me from becoming an anxious hoarder of gifts that were made to be enjoyed and shared.  If I cannot give thanks for it, then it is probably not something I ought to have!

So my emptiness is God’s opportunity to fill me.  Glory to God!


Noon: Hope and Despair.  I walked again to the end of the second beach.  Since yesterday my calves have been sore and inelastic.  I took my time today, dawdling rather than striding as usual, but even so my pace was further reduced by the time I returned.  I wasn’t hobbling – but I wasn’t far from. 

The following poem describes the experiences of this walk:


At the end of the beach

is a long spit beside the stream

against the bank I came across the carcase of a cow

beginning to bloat, bones showing

where it’s been beaten on rocks

by the river that rolled it into the sea

and by the sea that stranded it in the sand.

Turning towards the retreating tide

I saw how on each side of the spit

the sea stretched out to elusive horizons

hidden by mizzling rain and morning mists.

This is our state, stuck

between death and the indistinct division

of earth and heaven.

"Come, Lord Jesus" I called out to Christ our King

over and again

to he who is our hope.


The first version of the poem, written shortly after my return from the beach, actually had the final lines,

"I called out, Come, Lord Christ,

and the blank blue sky, deaf and blind,

rolled over my head"

Of the two versions, the second one I wrote (the first one in this entry) is more correct; truer to my experience at the time and to the reality.  It is also true that, at the time, the heavens seemed blind and blank to me, but it is more true that in calling out to Christ I was reminded that our present deathly, confused state is not permanent.  He will come and make an end to this.  And he comes to us now with signs of the kingdom.  I went home and wrote both the despair and the hope, but hope is the last word. 


Afternoon: Triumph.  Having written the poems, I felt restless.  I had recovered from my walk and now prowled my cell seeking distraction.  I picked up a candle, thinking to light it and meditate a while on the flame – but felt (God saying) that I was just distracting myself by playing with fire.  Apt that.  I prowled again.  In fact, I began to pace.  Thinking about the fact that the four days of fasting was nearly over I wondered if it should have been more like Christ’s experience (of forty days) in which he was tempted by the devil…

At that my pacing got a little agitated as light began to dawn on me.  After a couple more turns I threw on my boots and jacket again and went back to the beach – this time walking in the other direction for the first time.  I was exultant!  My bounce was back and phooey on my inelastic calves!  On my very first morning of fasting, God had shown me that I was tempted by Satan.  In that case by the desires of the flesh.  The second day I found myself in a high place, putting God to the test.  The third day… didn’t I seek to find divinity where it does not reside?  Didn’t I learn that God cannot be made present by my art, but is free and alone worthy of worship? 

In realising the reality of the life of Jesus recapitulated in me i was overjoyed.  I practically danced all the way down the rocky coast-line, skipping from rock to rock, and roaring out the ‘Lorica’ of St Patrick over the crashing waves; a sort of battle song to place Satan on notice.  Fasting is feasting.


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