On Retreat

Space Between the Lines

“You’re going on a what?”

I was going on a retreat. I didn’t know if anyone else used this word, but that’s what we called it—those dark, cool Friday nights where the church lobby was piled full of sleeping bags and rucksacks. The empty school bus rolling up to the curb, the city disappearing behind us in a stream of lights, the sound of the gravel road as we trundled along, the many times we were lost and without bearings. The noise would rise and fall as we switched from seat to seat, talking in hushed voices about the things below the surface of our lives; we shared common fears and hopes; the stop for food was like a visit to Fiddler’s Green on a journey through the vacant places between worlds.

I always stared out the bus window. I watched a menacing crowd of teens gather around Anthony in the parking lot of a Tim Horton’s, their leader shouting and gesturing, raging at these people who would believe in a God who let terrible things happen—who would let his father die. Anthony stood there and listened.

In time we arrived at the place; empty wooden buildings and cabins huddled together like survivors in the night, with no sense of belonging to anything greater than themselves. We were somewhere else entirely.

The morning revealed the change that had happened during the night. No amount of exploring would take us back where we came from. We were free to sit quietly by the wood-fired stoves, laugh loudly, and see the world as it was before plunging back into life, as if back into a dream.

Apart from the youthful sense of wonder that is difficult to remember, let alone recover, I have kept something from those church retreats that I will never forget: that God exists in the spaces, and that the context of the everyday is meaningless. I do not wish to see myself as a stranger to the world because I will eventually die, but because that is the only way to keep clarity. The places without rules and time, that contain only known people and the unknown natural world, these are the important ones. They are the only proving ground for the ideas that I live by.

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