RETREAT!

It is the day after Memorial Day.  I get way too many emails, but I’m 57.  I’m trying to withdraw from the world without getting fired or retired (sometimes you retire.  Other times you GET retired.  See “getting fired.”

Anyway, I find myself, more and more, saying to a television screen, “That’s the wrong question” and “neither of the above.”  Since we’ve quit reading anything longer than a few sentences, ah, I won’t go there today.

Few weeks ago I went on a retreat to Cullman, Alabama.  I stayed with a dozen pastor buddies at the St. Bernard Retreat Center.  It was a lovely setting.  The last time I “retreated” at St. Bernard’s I stayed actually in the monastery with the brothers, who treated me well, but it was not air-conditioned, and it was August in Alabama.  I had a small window, a box fan to blow hot air, and the last vestiges of a stomach virus.  Didn’t make it through the night and drove off in the Great Silence searching for a Waffle House or a Cracker Barrel.

Over the past few weeks, I have watched Ken Burns’ “Civil War,” all the way through.  Something I always wanted to do, but never had before.  So I did it.  Glorious, insightful, even after all these years.  And “retreat” came to be more meaningful.  You retreat when your forces are being obliterated.  A “strategic retreat” is one you do to preserve yourself for another fight (“He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day.”)  But sometimes you just run for your life.  Cannons to the left of you, cannons to the right of you, manure under your feet and bayonets coming at you.  No strategic about it, just run, dummy.

Spiritual retreats, honestly, are a little like that.  Living in this world is too much like Antietam and Gettysburg, to tell you the truth.  There’s foolishness and then there’s what we have now.  What can you do?  Burns says desertion, draft-dodging by the rich, protests, all of that happened then.  Lincoln was trying to get re-elected while the Confederate army kept coming into Maryland to kill him.  It’s hard to run a campaign in such times.

RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY!

So maybe I shouldn’t complain.  But this is a crazy time, too.  Just yesterday on the news, a man ate another man’s face, and it was reported that a Southern Baptist Leader announced a new coalition in which “Catholics and Southern Baptists have joined forces with Orthodox Jews and Mormons to oppose a ‘secular theocracy driven by a full-blown pagan understanding of human sexuality.’”  I don’t even know how you can HAVE a secular theocracy with no Theo.  And let’s not talk about the independent preacher in North Carolina and his electrified wall.   A school system in New York can’t fire a teacher who couldn’t get hired to pick up road kill for the county if she didn’t have tenure.  We don’t have civil war, but we don’t exactly have civil conversation either.

So, all in all, retreating is not so bad.  I still know too many people looking for work.  I want my grandbaby to have a decent job someday.  I want homeless people to sleep out of the rain, and I want everyone to pitch in and help make things better.  No one is asking me to sacrifice and telling me how.  No one is saying, “Even if I don’t get re-elected, let’s fix this deficit now.  Elections can wait.”  No one is saying, “that’s not news.  It’s stupid.  Get that off there and put something better on for us to talk about.”

Sound the retreat!

As I drove into lovely Cullman, Alabama for my “retreat,” I saw the most wonderful signs here and there.  They’re having an election, too, and a Judge Lust is running for re-election.  Try running a campaign against lust and see how it goes.  Another sign said, Unity Baptist Church.  Oxymoron?

One church had one of those changeable signs that must come with a book of clever clichés for preachers.  You know, PRAYER: WIRELESS ACCESS TO GOT WITH NO ROAMING FEE and THE FAMILY THAT PRAYS TOGETHER STAYS TOGETHER and WALMART IS NOT THE ONLY SAVING PLACE. This one was pretty good.  It said, COME AS YOU ARE BUT BE PREPARED TO CHANGE EVERYTHING.  Yeah, I thought, I like that.

Then the best of all—obviously, I was lost by this time, having driven past my turnoff and into the country.  But it was worth it.  A glorious sign that said, “NORTH ALABAMA BULL EVALUATION CENTER.”  Hallelujah!  At last!

Alas, to my disappointment, it was about cattle.  I turned around and headed the other way. The next morning, I was sitting in the Abbey Church listening to monks chanting and praying for the world.  Not so bad.

RETREAT!  RUN AWAY!

About Gary Furr

Gary is a musician, writer and Christian minister living in Alabama.

Posted on May 29, 2012, in Culture, Higher Education, Humor, Modern Life, Pilgrimage, Prayer, Retreats, Spirituality, Television and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Once again you’ve nailed it! Thanks. Wish I’d known you were going on retreat. I would have sent you my copy of “Hank Hung The Moon and Warmed Our Cold, Cold Hearts.”
    Blessings, Relma

  2. I spent a couple of weekends on retreat at St Bernard. Thought I would starve. They served Nun food which I came to understand meant none over a tablespoon. One cookie for dessert. You could have an apple. One. I was a bit puzzled about the Nuns. More were a bit over weight than were not. I think they were allowed to go through the line twice. A lovely peaceful place but I just cannot recommend the food.
    Yes, the silly season is upon us and the knives are sharpening. I do fear for the homeless, jobless, elderly and jthe children. We’ve certainly made a mess of things. Somewhere deep inside me though I still believe we are Americans and will somehow, with love and light, pull this together. We are a great nation of good and descent people and will in the end, choose the right path, kicking and screaming the whole way.

  3. Thanks, Gary, for another great post. I smiled and nodded until North Alabama Bull Evaluation Center, then I laughed ’til I cried. Good to start the day with laughter. Will be participating in a YWCA camp for teens all next week, 7 am to 11 pm every day. I may need St. Bernard’s after. I’m always blessed by your thoughts — keep ’em coming!

    • Sometimes true experiences are better than fiction. You can’t make this stuff up!

      As for going to St. Bernards, you’ve given me an idea. Maybe a retreat this summer. Interested?

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