I know some may be surprised at why I went to a hotel/mall for a retreat rather than a convent or other church run facility but if you know me well its not so strange. First, I do like to multi task and use my time well so somewhere that I can accomplish a few things at once is fantastic. I was able to complete five objectives in this one trip.
The setting I chose is not so unusual when you consider it further. One, you can be alone in a crowd of people as easily as you can be in a solitary setting. Two, the relevance of the church is regularly in competition with the marketplace/ mall. Why not get a sense of the competition, see its values in opposition to mine and the church. More importantly why not explore where God’s call comes in to play in that mix of personal desire, faith and consumerism.
I had a glimmer of plan worked out on how I would go about this exploration. I began each day with prayer and a simple breakfast. I just love the Prayer as you Go website, http://www.pray-as-you-go.org/. It has a lovely combination of prayer, reflective questions, and music. Also its no more than 15 minutes long so one doesn’t fall asleep mid way (LOL). Following that I did a bit of exercise – yoga or Pilates in my room to get my energy up. Then I read.
The books on my list were Marcus Borg’s “Speaking Christian” and Barbara Brown Taylors’ “When God is Silent.” Normally I have a few more that I try to get thru but I wanted to savour what I was reading and have the opportunity to reflect deeply. Okay sometimes the deep reflection was overcome with deep snoring, but that’s fine too.
I can see now that my unintentional theme was about language – its use, over use and the need for silence. Since the middle of November I have found myself to be preferring silence, and listening deeply to those around me. Yes at times I have some things to say that I want to be heard, but often I check myself to see if what I want to share is just useless babble or has some depth to it. Got to tell you, I find that a lot of our conversation is pretty trivial and superficial. This is saddening as most folks just want to be known. So often we get lost in a jumble of activities and words, missing the opportunity to connect deeply in a way of healing in another person’s life. This is a message that I hear over and over from young sailors new to the Canadian Forces who find themselves in a new setting, far from home, unknown to those around them. I think in that connection of being known is the voice of God, the manna from heaven, our daily bread. And how often do we not recognize it, preferring stale bread, false substitutes and empty words?
I was profoundly struck by Barbara Brown Taylor's paraphrase of Amos 8: 11- 12 while I was at the mall.
“Their prophets shall die and not be replaced. Their leaders shall speak words of promise but no power and their merchants shall fill the air with their babble. Their temples shall be full of the sound of their own voices. When they pray they shall hear nothing but wind. I shall make an orphan of their mother tongue, says the Lord God. I shall let them choke on the dead husks of their own words until they beg me for fresh bread from heaven.“
From When God is Silent.
There in the middle of the mall, surrounded by Coach Handbags, hand painted lingerie, wonderful shoes, one can indeed see the spiritual famine in the land of plenty. Listening to the babble of the marketplace you comprehend the shift in language, while experiencing how broken our language is and how much we lost. As aside at work, the Combat Systems Engineer instructors, have a massive white board in their office which they filled up with thousands of words which students, the average age is 20 years, have misspelled or misinterpreted in their use when writing quizzes or papers. The brokenness of our language is pervasive throughout the whole of society and not just limited to the church.
My question in this revelation is, how can it be healed? What is my role in speaking a language of faith with depth and awareness of the direction of the Holy God?