Silence by the Sea
The Lenten season was full and rich. Over 40 adults and high school students gathered over six weeks to explore issues of race, culture, and faith in our “Discovering the Mosaic” class. On Palm Sunday, our Mac Cov kids did a fabulous job leading us in worship through the musical, “Back to the Cross.” On Good Friday, we hosted four other local churches at Mac Cov for a collaborative Good Friday service, remembering Christ’s sacrifice for all at the Cross. Then on Easter Sunday, over 500 people filled our church as we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus with joyful hallelujahs - He is risen indeed!
On a personal level, I was very encouraged by the many ways I saw God at work throughout the past season. After a full season of ministry, I was grateful to God and also ready for a break! God provided just what I needed.
The weekend after Easter, I had the gift of going on a silent retreat in Seaside, Oregon. The retreat was organized by Selah Center, which is the group I did my spiritual direction training with several years ago. As a means of encouragement, I’d like to share with you how God renewed my soul during time away.
There were seven of us on the retreat, called “Silence by the Sea.” One of the first surprises was seeing Kathleen, a woman from the church we served in Tacoma - it was a joy to reconnect and be on the retreat together. The next surprise was discovering that due to a couple cancellations, I got to have a two-bedroom cottage all to myself for the retreat. For someone who energizes best in quiet solitude, this was awesome!
Our theme for the retreat was “Come Away and Rest” and focused on Jesus’ invitation to His disciples to come away with Him for awhile to be renewed. Our director, Rev. John Kiemele, has been a mentor to me and embodies what it means to have a stilled soul. John guided our opening session Friday night, framing the retreat with this theme of rest. And then we all entered into an intentional 36 hour period of prayerful silence.
Have you ever tried to be quiet for that long? It’s hard. Even for someone who enjoys quiet space, entering into silence is challenging. As I made the transition from busy and active to silent, the “inner chatter” in my head did not immediately stop. My mind continued to run with things to do or spin in directions I didn’t want my mind to go. Yet, being at the ocean and being in silence with others provided a space for “decluttering.” Gradually, my heart and mind began to settle. I was able to physically rest and rest well. I was able to go for a run and enjoy long walks along the beach. The vastness of the ocean always recalibrates my perspective.
Our meals were eaten together but in silence. It’s kind of weird to eat that way at first, but eventually the silence-in-community deepened the sense of prayer. The meals were prepared by Dr. Marissa Kiemele, who is a physician and also a gourmet cook. She provided four healthy, tasty plant-based meals throughout the retreat - delighting our palates and filling our bodies with nutritious goodness. What a wonderful gift!
The sense I had from the Lord throughout the retreat was that Jesus wanted to serve me. Initially, this felt counter-intuitive coming from a full season of life and ministry. The verse that came to mind was from Mark 10:45 - “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve ….” Usually, this verse reminds me to be like Jesus and to serve others. But during this retreat, the Lord turned this around on me and reminded me that He wanted to serve me for a change (though God is doing this all the time!). All the blessings on the retreat were gestures of service and love from Jesus to me.
Jesus even served me coffee. On Saturday morning, I popped into a local coffee shop for a bagel and drink. As I walked in, I heard a voice yell out, “You didn’t just walk in here, did you?!” When I realized this person was talking to me, I saw a friend from McMinnville whom I had been texting that very week about getting together. I told my friend that I was on a silent retreat and couldn’t talk at the moment, but she insisted on buying my bagel and coffee. It was as if Jesus was saying, I’m even going to buy you coffee here in Seaside! God was showing off a little bit. Jesus and I laughed about that coffee throughout the whole weekend.
As my soul gradually settled throughout the silent retreat, I noticed that my creativity started to stir again. Songs were flowing, thoughts were fresh, I was starting to notice things I probably would have missed in my tiredness before the retreat. Yeah! Taking 36 hours of quiet with Jesus was rejuvenating for my soul.
When we finally broke our silence together on Sunday morning, there was a richness that our group shared that could only come as a result of the prayerful silence. Our attention and imaginations had been re-captivated by the One who loves us and gave Himself for us. The sense of community, even with people I had just met, had an unspoken depth to it. We were in the presence of Jesus together. We ended our time by sharing the Lord’s Supper together, recognizing the Body of Christ in and among us.
The retreat was just what I needed. As we enter into the summer season, what does your soul need? We are created for work and for rest, for action and contemplation. I encourage you to take time this summer to “declutter” your mind and heart. It may be on a silent retreat at the ocean, it may be an hour praying in the chapel, it may be hiking up a mountain, it may start with five minutes of quiet during a car ride. Hear Jesus’ invitation to “come away and rest awhile.” He’s calling you, and he’s calling me. Don’t worry, the work will be there when we get back. But we will be able to re-engage from a much better place if we allow Jesus to serve us first. Then we’ll know what it means to serve others and we’ll have more capacity to do it well.