Have You Ever Tried to Run Away?

Many of us love the theologian, priest, and author Henri Nouwen for his insights and guidance on the spiritual life. I recently reread his book, The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery. This book is Nouwen’s diary about the seven months he spent as a “temporary monk” in the Abbey of the Genesee in New York. Nouwen took this extended retreat in 1974 while he was a professor at Yale Divinity School. He did so to face his restless self and to step back from a busyness and sense of self-importance that seemed to have a hold on him. He had questions about himself and questions for God.

Genesee Diary
My well worn copy of Nouwen’s book

Nouwen’s diary is full of insights about monastic life and the Christian faith. I highly recommend it. But the part that arrested me came at the very end, when Nouwen returned to his life and work as a professor.

Nouwen reports that soon after returning to his everyday life, his “demons” returned: restlessness, ambition, illusions, and compulsions. His seven months in the monastery, he says, did not change him. Did not improve him. Did not solve his problems. Did not even quiet his heart.

What a surprising denouement to this little book! After following Nouwen’s daily life in the monastery, the reader does not expect to learn that his retreat amounted to so little. We were looking for results: big changes, a new life, a renewed spirit.

At first, Nouwen was thrown by the return of his demons, too. He he wondered if his retreat had “failed.”

Eventually, however, he came to a different conclusion. The monastery, Nouwen says, “is not built to solve problems but to praise the Lord in the midst of them” (217). What a beautiful thought. Maybe we can learn to praise God right where we are, mired in the difficulties of life, and not look to him or to our experiences of him purely to solve our problems.

I have often fantasized about removing myself to a monastery or, I kid you not, a sanatorium. I have wanted to run away from my life and its problems. I do not think that running away is what Nouwen did, but it’s what I want to do. I want to find a place apart from the world where I can have a measure of peace. A place without the pressing everyday issues that sometimes seem to tear me apart. A place where I can find myself again, and, yes, find God, too.

Recently I tried to run away from my life (not to a monastery; just away). I thought I could find peace and freedom away from it all. But it didn’t work, and I’m both pleased and apprehensive to report that God called me back. He is restoring me to my life, with all its problems.

I’ve come to realize that there is no escape from life–not in a monastic community, not at a retreat, not anywhere. We cannot run away from our problems or our selves. My life—the hurts, the issues, the chaos—is my monastery. There may be moments I can retreat, but in general, I have to learn to praise God right here. In my world, just the way it is. And to rely upon a daily measure of grace to see me through.

It is a hard lesson. I think there will always be a part of me that wants to escape. But, following Nouwen’s example, I am learning to not run from the mess but to praise the Lord in the midst of it.

Come on Retreat with The Contemplative Writer

A few days ago, a friend of mind wrote: “Without care of the soul, we suffer under the weight of our calling or become smothered in the banal. Spiritual rejuvenation takes many forms but it is not a luxury OR optional.”

Those words ring true to me. Soul care is not optional. It keeps us going, renews us, returns us to ourselves, and above all helps us experience the care of our Creator.

Spiritual practices help us care for our soul — fixed-hour prayer, contemplative prayer, spiritual direction, and lectio divina, for example. When we engage in one of these practices, the goal is to clear the way for God to work in us. As the author of the Cloud of Unknowing said, “In the work of contemplation, God stirs our souls. His grace is the principal worker in us.” It’s God, not us.

I find valuable resources in the contemplatives and mystics of contemplative history who tell us about these practices. And I have another resource I’d like to tell you about today.

I’ve teamed up with a soul friend to host a spiritual retreat! We’re excited to offer this to you. The retreat will take place June 5 – 7, 2020 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Here’s a brief description:

Sacred Spaces is the first annual destination retreat created and hosted by Lisa Deam, Ph.D. and Lisa Colón Delay, a top-ranked spirituality podcaster and writer. In the high desert of New Mexico, we’ll gather to recharge our soul. We’ll enjoy a time of rest, contemplation, and spiritual practices.

We’ll specifically be focusing on the practice of pilgrimage, which is experiencing a worldwide resurgence today. A highlight of the retreat will be a visit to the local pilgrimage site of Chimayo, New Mexico.

Our schedule for the retreat is spacious. We want to welcome you and provide time for you to rest, recharge, grow, and journey with friends old and new. The New Mexico landscape is an ideal place for retreat and contemplation since it has a spiritual potency of its own.

Soul care is important, so I hope you’ll prayerfully consider joining us on this retreat. If you can’t make it yourself, you can donate so that someone else can.

There are two ways to get more information on the Sacred Spaces retreat. You can sign up to get updates on the retreat’s landing page.

And you can go to EventBrite for a wealth of information and to purchase your tickets. (Note: EventBrite is down or experiencing some technical difficulties. If the link doesn’t take you there right now, please try again later!)

From now until the end of October, we have a reduced rate on tickets. It’s a really good deal — it includes the event program, pilgrimage visit, two nights lodging, and four meals. Take a look.

Please join us on a pilgrimage of the heart.

Announcement and details of Sacred Spaces Destination Retreat June 2020 from Lisa Colón DeLay on Vimeo.