For the next two days I will (mostly) be in prayer, rest and reflection mode before returning to ministry on Thursday. I am attempting to reclaim the "oasis" rhythm that used to be essential to me but was lost when we moved East. No regrets, however, because "to everything there is a season," yes? And if "reality is the will of God" (as Meister Eckhart suggests) - if acceptance is at the heart of compassion and maturity (God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference) - then my time without the oasis was necessary.After all I am a part of a long tradition that honors wandering in the wilderness. Now seems to be the right time, however, to renew and revive an order for my inward journey that once was vital but had fallen into neglect.
The "oasis" rhythm of rest and reflection grows out of the spirituality of Charles de Foucauld who, after leaving his service as an officer in the French Army in North Africa, sought to live among the poor as Jesus did in Nazareth. That is, Foucauld wanted to live among the Tuareg people of the Sahara in Algiers as an anonymous Christian - a hidden ally of compassion - a quiet presence for love and tenderness without drawing any attention to his religious tradition. He sought to live as Jesus did before the Lord went public. In this, there was no concern about "conversion" or "success." Like Jean Vanier, once an officer in the French Navy, Foucauld yearned to live a life grounded in the heart. In a harsh and demanding place, he sought to be a balm of tenderness.
And one of the ways he did this - a rhythm of living that was nurtured by the religious order, Little Brothers of Charity, that grew up around him - involved giving order and form to his time. One hour each day was given to quiet contemplation in the presence of the Lord, one day each week was given to rest and reflection, too; and then one week a year was set aside for a deeper time of intentional renewal. For a period of time in Cleveland - and later in Tucson - I built this oasis rhythm into my ministry. At about the time I fell into the pit of my dark night of the soul, I gave up the oasis commitment - and have not been able to reclaim it again until now.
One of the truths I have been wrestling with during the past two weeks - and in reality for
the past 6 years - has to do with my limits. I simply don't have as much energy as I used to in the early days of ministry. My back hurts from time to time, my hearing has become diminished and I certainly don't have the stamina I used to count on. Vanier writes, "Compassion is maturity and maturity is acceptance. Maturity is precisely the acceptance of yourself with your own flaws, as well as others with their flaws. Maturity, then, is to discover who we are." (Becoming Human) Well, I am 61 years old and I need a different pace and rhythm to doing ministry than I did 30 years ago. (Sounds foolish as I write this but denial is a monster!)
So part of the oasis rhythm is reclaiming a slower and more humane way of using my time. It also has something to do with strengthening my soul. I remember Henri Nouwen once talking about the time he spent with Mother Theresa in India. He asked her for her secret in doing her bold ministry of compassion. Her answer was simple: stop looking for short cuts, Henri and just give God one hour of each day in silence. The rest is up to the Lord, yes?"
In order to trust and rest in the Lord more deeply, I, too need to spend more time opening myself to God's loving grace and correction. Vanier notes that in our calling towards tenderness, we must freely choose the path of discipleship. In this freedom he writes:
We find room for love and compassion, to give our lives more totally and more freely to others. It is the freedom to be kind and patient. This freedom does not seep personal honors; it believes all, hopes all, bears and and endures all. Freedom does not judge or condemn but understands and forgives. Freedom is the liberation from all those inner fears that make us hide from people and from reality. It is also the humble acceptance of the fact that we do have fears and inhibition and that we need to ask forgiveness of those we have hurt.
Today is the first day of my oasis - 24 hours set aside for rest and reflection - trusting that God is truly gracious. Like the great rabbi Heschel used to say about honoring the Sabbath: If we can rest knowing that God is in charge for 24 hours, perhaps we can live as if God is in charge of the rest of time, too. Sabbath - oasis - retreat is nourishing the habits and practices of trust.
You see, this place has become my home - my physical and spiritual home - I love the land, I cherish the people and I am coming to honor the seasons and traditions. Ernst Kurtz once wrote in his wise A Spirituality of Imperfection that: "home is the place where we fit in precisely because of our limitations, where we fit in not because of what we have but because of what we lack." He then tells this story:
A man was looking for a good church to attend and he happened to enter one in which the congregation and preacher were reading from their prayer book. They were saying: We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done. Dropping into a seat, he sighed with relief as he said to himself, "Thank goodness, I've found my crowd at last."
Home, Kurtz continues: is ultimately that place where we find the peace and harmony that comes from learning to live with the knowledge of our own imperfections and from learning to accept the imperfections of others. The rest and reflection rhythm of oasis time is one of the ways that helps me stay grounded in my home.
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