This is a reflection from my recent visit to Little Portion Retreat Center on More Mountain in Eureka Springs for a directed silent retreat hosted by Christview Ministries and Dovehouse Ministries. This was my second retreat with this group, and very different from last year. I am still, a month later, processing all that I learned about myself and about God. The writing has been slower developing this time and so I hope that you have grace for the slow way that I will share these reflections. If you would like to read more about my trips to More Mountain, just search for Sound of Silence in the search box.
“It sounds like God is preparing you for something really big,” the Pastor said.
I nodded and shivered. That declaration felt both thrilling and ominous. “Really big” so often means “Really different” to me…and you know what? Change is hard.
My palms began to sweat and I felt the flush of heat rise that is the harbinger of spirit truth. It resonated in me, this wise man’s statement, and I wondered where I would next hear the voice of God.
I had been telling the pastor of my experience last month on More Mountain. Speaking of how I had gone seeking to bask in the glory of God- to be undone by His presence. Speaking of how I did not know what to expect on that return trip to the mountain, but had traveled there with such high expectations. Speaking of how difficult it was to get over the disappointment that God just wanted me to rest. Of how my spirit wrestled and peace eluded me.
I told him about arriving, late and frustrated, and of feeling like a woman in a desert crawling toward water. I told him of collapsing after dinner and sleeping for 13 hours straight with the thought that I would rest and begin my journey with God the next morning. I told him of the first scripture passage we were given and how I cried myself to sleep when I read it because I knew that this experience would not bear up under the heavy weight of the expectations I carried.
“..the LORD appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” – Jeremiah 31:3
A song of love from our God, right?…But all I could see was:
“the Lord appeared to me from far away.”
I’m staying far away this weekend, God whispered. Rest here.
I didn’t want rest. I wanted God. Up close and personal and right there- in. my. face-not far away.
So I slept that night and awoke the next morning, still exhausted, for breakfast. I ate quickly and headed out to hike the beautiful trails around us, looking for my ‘Absalom.’ I barely made it back to the room before I was too exhausted to walk further. I lay down to nap until my allotted time with my spiritual director, Judy.
She could see I was exhausted. She could sense God’s plan for me already, even though I was still fighting it. Together we prayed for a word from the Lord. I, expecting the requisite three scripture references for our practice of Lectio Divina throughout the day, savored the idea of the spiritual work that was to come. Judy, my wise Yoda-esque mentor, listened intently for guidance from the Lord.
She asked me what I had heard from the Lord. I thought I might fib and say, “nothing,” but I knew she knew better.
I sighed. “Rest.”
“I keep seeing this picture of you crawling to water. God wants you to float in the water.”
“Is there a scripture that comes to mind?”
“Yes, 1 Kings 19”
Judy smiled quietly. “Do you know the story? Of Elijah and the broom tree?”
We opened the Bible and began to read what God was up to:
4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree.And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” 5 And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” 6 And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. 7 And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” 8 And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.- 1 Kings 19:4-8
Judy looked at me with tender eyes….I knew that look…the “this might hurt a little” look.
“I don’t have any scripture references for you this weekend. No lectio divina, no work. Just rest. God wants you to rest deeply.”
My eyes filled up and I dropped my head and looked away to hide the trembling chin of deep disappointment from this woman who had become my guide.
“Do you know that after his rest under the broom tree, Elijah went to Mt Horeb where he heard from God in the still small voice? Did you know that God told him there were others to work alongside him? There is a great journey God is preparing you for, but you don’t have the strength yet. Trust that God does not need your active participation to be at work in your life. Now go, and rest.” Judy dismissed me with a sweet prayer for peace and an even sweeter hug…one that said, ‘I know this is hard, but you and God can do it.”
I knew the truth of her words. I felt the same flush of spirit truth that I would feel just three weeks later while I related the story the pastor. But still, I was sad. Sad that I would miss out on the beautiful weekend and the hiking trails and the caterpillars and the long, long talks with God. My heart understood, but spirit still struggled against the truth of it. My body, however, overtook all that and screamed out its exhaustion at me.
I did not even make it to my room for a nap. Instead, I lay down on the porch in a chaise lounge. The sun was shining, but the breeze was chilly and I thought that the chill in the air would jar me awake. As I snuggled down into the comfortable lounge, I sucked my arms up into my fleece jacket and closed my eyes.
Two hours later, I awoke. Someone had laid a heavy fleece blanket over me and started a fire in the fire pit next to me. The love and gentleness in that gesture flooded me with peace and I felt a piece of the resistance within me break away. I was safe…and cherished…and watched over in this place.
I gathered my Bible and my journal and headed back towards my room– for more rest.
“The early Christians referred to death as falling asleep. It was the point of complete surrender into the loving arms of a loving God. In this experience of his weakness Elijah encounters the Lord in a different way. I propose that this encounter reveals the heart of Christian prayer, a call to surrendered love. There, under the broom tree, he is fed a hearth cake and water, a Eucharistic symbol. “He got up, ate and drank; then strengthened by that food; he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.” (1 Kings 19:8) There he is prepared to hear the voice of God as He passed by, not in a mighty wind, an earthquake, or a fire — but in a gentle whisper — the kind that can only be heard by one who has a surrendered ear to hear. Humble — not haughty.” – Keith Fournier, Learning to Live Under the Broom Tree