I will head to the Idaho-Washington border tomorrow to spend a few days alone on a personal retreat—heaven for an introvert and a planner. Serving a church family that follows an academic calendar makes this the perfect time for such a thing. There is time to breathe and work to do, and there are dreams to dream and plans to develop. I am ready for all of this and more.
Solitude is an excellent work space and a good planning partner. There is something magical about standing at attention, all alone, listening for still, small whispers transported on air. I cannot wait.
I recall Wordsworth’s vivid description from over two centuries ago of a solitary cloud floating over thousands of golden daffodils and then an inner state of being that he can access so that his happy heart dances among those spectacular flowers. That’s what I’m talking about. That’s what I love about solitude.
I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud – by William Wordsworth
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
It is a big day. My office sits in the heart of Pepperdine University’s main campus in Malibu, and today is the first day of classes for undergraduate students. Next door to my office is Pepperdine’s high-tech, newly-renovated Payson Library complete with a full-functioning Starbucks, and you can feel the highly-caffeinated energy in the air.
My youngest daughter attends a different university that runs on a different calendar, but because she is studying abroad in Spain this semester and her plane is scheduled to touch down right about now it feels like the first day for her, too. It simply feels like a big day at every turn in my world.
Last week had a different feel. I was honored to be invited to attend a retreat high in the San Bernardino Mountains with fifty or sixty rising Pepperdine sophomores as they prepared for a brand new year. It was such a tranquil setting. The view by day featured a beautiful lake and stunning views of the surrounding mountains, and the night featured actual bear sightings and a sky so full of stars that I had to remind myself that it was real.
But I decided to go for a run one afternoon because that is the sort of thing I do, and though stunning, I wouldn’t snag the word “tranquil” to describe it. For one, we were a mile above sea level, and let’s just say that my lungs noticed. For two, although the temperature was nowhere near extreme, maybe it seemed so hot because we were that much closer to the sun. And for three, there was nothing flat in sight. It surely wasn’t my easiest rave run.
We went on this retreat to get away and find focus for the year to come. Peace and tranquility are good for such things, but on reflection I think that difficult run was pretty good preparation, too. In fact, my major take-away on the retreat was that I need to remember how to choose to do without. And that run surely reminded me what it felt like to do without, oh, let’s say, air.
So here we go. The year ahead looks full and awesome and slightly terrifying, but good. I’m ready for it. Let’s run this race.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged bears, california, college, elevation, focus, malibu, payson library, peace, pepperdine, retreat, running, san bernardino mountains, spain, starbucks, stars, study abroad, tranquility
I’m the sort of person who doesn’t mind going to a movie alone. That’s weird I know, but then again so am I. All of the voices inside my head get along pretty well most of the time so the occasional time alone is positive more often than not.
My new preaching gig graciously allows me to attend some sort of conference each year, but since nothing particularly appealing fit into my calendar and since I never really had a chance to reflect prior to jumping from one job into another, I opted for a personal spiritual retreat this year—retreating today and returning on Friday. I suspect that I will talk to a person or two along the way at a restaurant or convenience store, but the plan is to spend time alone in silence. Listening to the sound of stillness. Meandering on a couple of scenic runs. Praying and meditating. Reflecting and planning. Dreaming. Preparing my mind, heart, and soul for a new year (as our church family marks time) that is rapidly approaching.
Utah is my chosen destination, partly because I have never been, partly because it is far enough away and yet not so far either, and partly because of a landmark there that may or may not have something to tell me about the sermon series I intend to deliver in the fall. We’ll find out soon enough.
We are all different. For some, such a week ahead may sound like torture, but I am almost giddy with excitement. Who knows what might emerge when I get away from routines and responsibilities, meetings and appointments, emails and notifications long enough and far enough to take a deep breath and truly listen?
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged breathe, contemplation, dream, listen, meditation, prayer, reflection, retreat, running, silence, solitude, soul, spirituality, utah