|Roanoke, Virginia at night at the overlook Star.|
“…he got up and went out to a secluded spot and prayed.” Mark 1:35b
My wife and I participated in the Annual Ministry Team Retreat this past week in Roanoke, Virginia. It was a lovely time of getting out of the routine and renewing friendships that we have made over the past eight years. Of course there was the usual work and eating and laughter and sightseeing but mostly it’s about being with God’s people; hearing their stories praying over the struggles and praising the One we serve.
We did something this year that, quite honestly put many of the participants off. When they came to register each person was given the opportunity to answer one of two questions: 1) What are you retreating from? Or 2) what do you expect to receive from the retreat? It was interesting to listen to so many varied responses and emotions. Most had not really come with an expectation and so after a little thought came up with their answer.
If we go by the traditional Jewish accounting of time (evening and morning) then we began our retreat on Ash Wednesday; a time where many begin the 40-day preparation for Easter. In medieval times it was used as the final period of training for the initiates as they look toward their baptismal Easter service. For most it is a time of reflection and fasting; a period of time of letting go of a worldly pleasure. For the participants in our survey the number one answer was REST but the second was getting away from the dogs!
For me though a retreat is a time of reflection, of trying to live the inside-out rhythm of the life of Jesus. Nine times in the Gospel of Mark Jesus retreats or finds solitude either alone or with his disciples.
Mark 1:9-13 – he goes on a pilgrimage to be baptized and spent 40 days in the desert fasting and praying
Mark 1:35 – he discerns it was time to leave Capernaum and go to minister in Galilee
Mark 1:45 – he went to a lonely place to pray and people came out to him
Mark 3:13 – after praying all night he picks his 12
Mark 6:30-32 – his cousin John had died and after receiving his disciples back from a ministry trip the crowds interrupted their retreat
Mark 6:45-46 – after prayer he walks out to his disciples and calms the waters
Mark 9:2-13 – he takes Peter, James and John on a retreat and converses with Moses and Elijah
Mark 14:12-31 – we need to recognize that the Upper Room time was more than an meal – it was a mini-retreat
Mark 14:32-42 – finally in the Garden of Gethsemane, he fully surrendered his will to the Father
During his times of extended prayer Jesus received guidance and power for the Father. It was those times that helped him make wise ministry decisions, feed and heal thousands, and apprentice leaders to follow his way of love. Jesus set the pattern for us to follow – inside-out spirituality. In this pattern he practiced Sabbath rest in a special way in these spiritual retreats and he carried this demeanor of submission to the Father and rejoicing in him into his daily life and ministry.
Visit, then, this soul of mine;
Pierce the gloom of sin and grief;
Fill me, Radiancy divine;
Scatter all myu unbelief;
More and more thyself display,
Shining to the perfect day. Amen.
Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies – Charles Wesley