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Distracted by Beauty


Since my seminary days I have often taken myself away for retreat. As a new pastor in my first church in Minnesota, I found going once a month to a nearby convent for retired Catholic Sisters, was a very renewing thing. They had a room reserved just for that purpose and I would go for 24 hours to read, write in my journal, and pray; to walk and to just reflect. In every place of ministry where I’ve lived, I’ve taken time for retreat. Once, when I was in a time of deep discernment, I spent a week at a convent that was actually a working farm, where the Sisters were part of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance – a contemplative community who follow the Rule of St. Benedict. I stayed in a house that was a duplex and enjoyed the beauty of flowers and walkways, I was shown amazing hospitality with fresh produce and bread and frozen meats. I was welcome to participate in chapel as they observed all seven of the divine hours, singing the Psalms together. I recall sitting alone at the kitchen table next to the big open window, hearing the night sounds, observing the full moon. It was almost enough beauty to make me want to just stay there!


After moving to Michigan, I discovered another retreat site, again owned and managed by Sisters. It is a house on a beautiful lake with a deck to sit on and reflect. One of the five bedrooms in this house faces the lake. Sister Martina who greeted me and made sure I had what I needed before leaving me alone asked which of the rooms I preferred to sleep in. I told her that most of the time I had chosen that room looking out at the lake. She said, “I can’t imagine choosing anything else – unless you don’t wish to be distracted by beauty.”

Now, as I sit here at my desk, observing this call to “shelter in place” at home, wishing I could get out of here and be with people, I’m looking out my window at a lovely sight. We are on the third floor of our apartment building, in a corner unit that looks to my right out over the roofs and steeples of our little town. But my favorite view is to the left, where I see the Red Cedar River, flowing along, a branch laying across part of it, and the trees at the edge are beginning to have buds. Across the river is the green golf course that we can’t see when the all the trees are full. It is indeed a beautiful sight.


I find my attention diverted often times. I start to write but then look to my left and see ducks on the river, or an otter swimming. I see ripples around that branch and the reflection of the trees in the water, or someone walking alone on the greens.


And I am distracted by this beauty.


I’ve been thinking lately about how it’s been a long time since there has been opportunity to get away for a retreat. It hasn’t happened for well over a year, before my retirement last May. I realize my spirit has longed for that time that is so important to me, so renewing.

Now, a health crisis is certainly nothing to be thankful for! I wish it were over; wish it had never happened and I feel such sorrow for those who have suffered so much because of this disease. But one of my favorite Scriptures is from Romans 8:28, that says “all things work together for good for those who love God …”


If we allow it, if we are open to the Holy Spirit moving in all situations, we can trust that God can take the worst event in our lives and shape something good from it. Does that mean we won’t suffer? Does it mean we won’t experience the consequences of our actions, our mistakes, our sins? Does it mean God will intervene and make the situation go away? In most cases – no. It does not mean that. What it does mean is that even in the most painful thing, God can bring something good from it. Perhaps a valuable lesson learned, or our character is shaped during that time.


For me, the good that is happening in this difficult time, this time when there is fear and uncertainty, is that I have an unexpected, unplanned personal retreat! A time for reflecting, reading, praying, writing. And just being. My husband is here with me, but he too spends much of his days in silence – sleeping and reading.




This is the Friday after Easter. We are still giving thanks for the resurrection of Christ and remembering how he appeared to his disciples who were hiding away in fear. He came to them and breathed on them, saying, “Peace be with you.” And they were filled with joy. They were renewed.


Maybe you are ready for retreat too? Consider what great things could come from silence.


Peace Be With You!

Sharlyn

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© 2020 by Dr. Sharlyn DeHaven Gates