Friday, January 27, 2012


As I type this, it has been almost 72 hours since I touched a computer. That is unthinkable for most people today – and usually for me. I am most often constantly attached to this computer, whether physically or spiritually, as my mind is often focused on the news and opinions and information I may be missing out on when the computer is in the other room. I take pride in knowing I can seek and find the answer to any question in few careful keystrokes.

This week I was privileged to take part in a prayer retreat at the beautiful St. Mary of Providence Center in the rolling, farm-covered hills of southeastern Pennsylvania. It was the second year I participated in this event. It is a group event, but quite unstructured, so as to allow the participants to find the appropriate retreat for themselves.

As I did last year, upon arrival, I unpacked the few belonging I brought with me, some clothes, a number of books, my toothbrush – and then immediately emptied my pockets. The freedom of walking around with limited attachments is quite breathtaking. Especially important is the forsaking of my phone. I don’t get or make a lot of calls, but my phone serves as my timekeeper; I haven’t worn a watch in years. The act of leaving it beside my bed as I spent the next two days apart from it was both scary and hopeful.

I am a slave of the clock. I have had trouble ridding myself of this learned US obsession with time and efficiency. I always feel like I should be doing more and doing it faster. I am always aware of the next thing on the agenda and working to get to it faster. The whole idea is to build this mythical reserve of time, which never materializes. Rest is a non-existent motivation.

Retreat allows for rest. I intentionally spurn the clock. If I oversleep and miss a meal, it won’t kill me. If I get lost in prayer or reading, the time doesn’t matter. I have often stated that one of the main purposes for our corporate worship gatherings is for us to escape the business and constraints of the world. A retreat is designed, at least for me, to expand that escape to a long enough period of time that it feels like a lifestyle.

There was no computer; I took only two calls with my wife, short ones at that – she is wonderful in understanding the purpose of such a retreat – there was no real agenda. I participated in group sessions for sharing and prayer, but most of my effort was focused on simply forgetting the schedule.

As I returned home yesterday afternoon, I immediately turned on my computer – I am sure there is much to catch up on. As it began to boot and load, I realized that there was no immediate need to interact what that world just yet. I took the evening off to sit in the living room with my wife, watch some TV and gradually re-immerse myself into the world, the escape from which was so soothing to my soul.

It began to dawn on me that the purpose of retreat this year was not simply to escape the cycle of efficiency and business for two days, but perhaps to reimagine that very cycle in my own life. I was to bring retreat back to my world in some way. We cannot be completely disconnected from the cycle – it is an inherent part of life – but it can be managed and corralled with discipline, focus and intentionality.

So I write this entry before checking my email. I write it before checking the news of the week or the sports scores, before posting on a message board or playing a game. I find this almost too good to be true. Can I really engage differently with the world?

That, in and of itself, is the question of the gospel. If Jesus Christ came to show us a different way, is that really something that makes sense in a world that shapes and forms us for the opposite. I have banked my life on the idea that the answer is yes, now it is time to see how well that bears out in practice.