Sunday, March 18, 2007

lenten journal: steal away

Here’s a sentence I’ve never written before: I went on a youth retreat this weekend so I could get some sleep. Thanks to my usual Friday-Saturday schedule at the Inn, I had more time to doze while I was out in the woods with twenty teenagers than I normally have on a weekend night. Life is full of little surprises.

Retreat. I got to thinking about the word on the way home. It is a noun:

  • withdrawing especially from something hazardous, formidable, or unpleasant
  • going backward or receding from a position or condition gained
  • withdrawal of a military force from a dangerous position or from an enemy attack
  • a period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, or study: a religious retreat
  • a place affording peace, quiet, privacy, or security
  • to treat again
I realize I’m mixing nouns and verbs in those definitions, but I’m intrigued by the possibilities of what it might mean to say I was on a retreat this past weekend. I don’t think we were withdrawing for safety or strategic reasons, nor do I think we were conceding any ground we have gained. Those definitions give the word a tinge of defeat. Yet the same word can hold a great deal of power. We withdrew to be together, to focus, to pray, and to learn. If anything, we gained ground.

The final definition is the simplest, but it also leaves me with a question. Does it mean to treat again, as in to repeat a medical regimen or procedure, or does it mean we all get seconds on ice cream?

I’m back in Marshfield tonight and I’m both refreshed and ready for bed. We left the campground early enough this morning to get back to Hampton in time for the regular worship service. Though that had not been the original plan, it worked out well and we all managed to stay awake during the service. After church, I went to lunch with my friends and then they took me to the airport to catch my flight home. I checked my bags and began to run the gauntlet that is the security check.

The first person I had to face was a young man sitting at a table who checked my boarding pass and my driver’s license. I put my carry on bag onto the belt, took off my shoes, and emptied my pockets to go through the metal detector. One man was looking at the x-ray screen and a couple of others were standing around. Another came by with a cup of coffee and they began to joke with each other. The guy behind me in line shot them a concerned look, as though he didn’t know how to interpret their shared humor. Did that mean things aren’t as serious as we are being led to believe? Did that mean they weren’t doing their jobs? Is it OK for the TSA to have a little fun? About that time the metal detector went off and things were back to business.

The fact that those folks are even there is evidence that we as a society – as a world – have retreated from a position gained, from something unpleasant to a place where we live in fear of an enemy attack. We have retreated and put them on the front lines, as if the inconvenience they put us through is to remind us we can’t let our guard down. We rely on them to save us from terrorist attacks and tubes of toothpaste that are too large so we can rest more easily.

These folks have thankless and difficult jobs. It was nice to see them laughing.

Our time in the woods this weekend makes me think of the old spiritual:
steal away, steal away
steal away to Jesus

steal away, steal away home

I ain’t got long to stay here

I’m having fun with words tonight. Steal can mean either moving secretly or unobserved (as it does in the song), or taking or appropriating something without permission.
steal away
Appropriate it. Take away and bring it here where we can experience the sense of relaxation, the sense of adventure, the calm, the relief away brings.
steal away home
We stole away. We retreated to a place where we affirmed each other out loud in ways we don’t do so much in the back of forth of everyday. We sat out under the stars and made s’mores around a bonfire. We pulled most of the mattresses off our beds and stacked them in the main meeting room so we could do our own version of WWF wrestling. We played spades, ate whatever we could find, talked a lot, and laughed ourselves silly. We stole away. Hopefully, we brought some of it back home with us.

Peace,
Milton

3 comments:

Tess said...

Thoughtful post, thanks. And it just shows where my priorities lie: until I read further down it never occurred to me that re-treat could mean anything other than seconds of ice-cream!

Presbyterian Gal said...

A fellow word enthusiast! Aren't words delicious?

Bet the s'mores were amazing.

goose said...

your description of the your retreat so captured the essential "retreatyness" of church retreats, that I was transported back to ones I've happily taken part in -- I guess you could call it a re-retreat. thanks.