by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, September 3, 2017
So here we are today, about to leave this place of beauty and peace and welcome. And the question at this time is much the same as the questions that face us as we move on from any time of retreat, or vacation, or sabbath time: What now? What next? How do we carry the graces and learnings of these days forward? How are we called to reach out to our neighbor with the new light and insight we now carry after these days away? How are we to leave?
I suspect those were much the same questions that Ruth noticed in the reading we heard proclaimed today (Ruth 1:1, 3-6, 14b-16, 22). In that passage, there’s a whole lot of leaving going on, isn’t there? First, there’s a famine, there’s food insecurity, so we know that pretty much all possibility of nourishment had gone away from the town of Bethlehem. That scarcity of sustenance caused Elimelech, Naomi, and their sons to depart and make their home in Moab. Not long after they settled in, Naomi faced another leave-taking, saying farewell to her husband who had died. For a woman of her time, to be without the protection of a husband was especially dangerous. It meant she was left with no voice, no income, no support. And some ten years later, Naomi had to once again let go of another precious part of her life: her two sons.
The leavings she experienced are the kind that can make a person feel bereft, without resources, immersed in a terrible loneliness. They echo our own experiences of what it means to be left without. To be left behind. To feel the impermanence of anything we possess, anything we love, including cherished relationships.
But in the person of Ruth, we also hear what it means to be companioned and accompanied. What it means to echo and bear witness to the faithfulness of a God who never abandons. A God who stays with us with tenderness and compassion, no matter what.
Just as God does, Ruth is present to Naomi’s loss. And just as God does, Ruth refuses to leave Naomi in her vulnerability, in her time of need and aloneness. Ruth embodies the Gospel call to love God with our whole heart and to love the our neighbor as our very selves, just as we would hope to be loved and cared for. It’s a theology of accompaniment that emphatically says: God is deeply present to us in our most solitary and lonely moments, even when it feels as if everyone else has left. And this theology of accompaniment is summed up in four words from the Book of Ruth: “Ruth stayed with her.” She stood with Naomi, she remained, just as the Holy One does.
When we leave a retreat, or a vacation, or some quiet time away, we’re not returning to Paradise, to the fullness of justice and wholemaking. We’re not heading back to the world as it could be or the world as we dream it should be.
We’re returning not to Eden, but to some place East of Eden. To the world we live in, the kin-dom still unfolding. East of Eden is the world as it is, marked by both beauty and brokenness. The world where we’re called to work, with God’s grace, to bring about the dream of the Holy for our world that is at the same time both beautiful and wounded.
So how might we stay with the graces of a retreat, even though we’re physically leaving this place?
Steve Garnaas Holmes (Unfolding Light) offers this wisdom to anyone leaving a retreat, a vacation, Sabbath time. In “Don’t Come Back Soon,” he notes, “The thing now is not to jump back up into fifth gear and start hurrying and fretting and multitasking and plowing all night long. Don’t come back from vacation and fill up with stuff. Stay a little vacant. Keep the empty place. Stay slow. Keep paying attention, keep being deeply present….”
“The thing as I rise from prayer,” he says, “is to stay in prayer. The purpose of prayer, or vacation, or sabbath, or sleep, is not just to come up for air so you can go back into the fray but also to slow yourself down so what you go back into isn’t a fray…”
“Even when others are panicking and hurrying and demanding, or when they aren’t doing anything at all and it’s all falling to you, even when the house is afire and you have to move quickly, you can stay rooted. You can do one thing at a time. Even when you’re not at your prayers, you can still be in prayer.”
He ends by saying, “Go on vacation, or into prayer, or on sabbath, early and often. Go there now. And don’t come back soon.”
He’s saying that, even though we’re leaving, we need to stay, to remain with the spirit and grounding of these days. So we continue to hold in our heart and prayer our beautiful, yet wounded world. We renew our intent to be present and attentive to our neighbor by loving the one in front of us, whether that person shares the same space we do or inhabits a space on the other side of the world. This is our hope and our prayer as we leave. May it be so, today and always.
Sit with the graces and blessings of time away, and give thanks for what has come to you.
What might be the challenges that await you as you leave?
Ask the Holy One to help you in staying rooted and centered in peace.
View from the shore of Hampton Bays, NY
Barnegat Light, Long Beach Island, NJ
This reflection was offered at the close of a guided retreat at St. Joseph’s Villa, Hampton Bays, NY, in August. Thank you for holding in your prayer all who were part of the retreat week.
After taking a break in August for my own time of quiet and healing, I’m back to blogging on Mining the Now this September. Thanks for returning!
Please remember in prayer those who will participate in a retreat day for the Ignatian Volunteer Corps of Northeastern Pennsylvania in Scranton, PA, September 9. Thank you!
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