in the third century, devout believers fled the cities and set up camp in the desert. There they pursued lifestyles of extravagant devotion, characterized by prayer, solitude, silence, and fasting. Pilgrims would come and visit, seeking the Lord alongside these holy men and women we now call the Desert Fathers and Mothers.
After the vigours of prayer truck, we also fled the city and spent two weeks at Kirks’ sister’s cottage north of Huntsville. When doing urban ministry, especially front line work, it’s important from time to get away from concrete and into the bush.
In early years, I found much to my dismay, that I didn’t do a lot of praying on my vacation. I realized that somehow I had begun to associate prayer with my job. An embarrassing revelation, to say the least. The last thing I want to be is a “professional pray-er!”
It became important for me to find out what the difference between “vacating” and “re-creating” was. It’s easy to vacate, to zone out. Eat too much, bombard our senses with entertainment and media. I would glut on fiction books – lying around and reading 800 pages a day of fluff and nothing. And then wonder why I didn’t feel restored.
What would it look like for me to identify some activities that were truly re-creational? That enliven my heart and spirit, and awaken my heart to my Creator rather than sending myself into a stupor.
I also don’t do well with lots of unstructured time. I start feeling depressed and sluggish. They say in AA, failing to plan is planning to fail, so now I go into my vacation time with a plan.
I took one of my favourite books on Spiritual Formation, Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton, and started my day reading and doing some of the excellent spiritual exercises at the end of each chapter. The exercises are probing and cause me to dig deep into God and into my own psyche. Cottage time is good time to do some of the deeper inner work required for spiritual health, and Barton is a trustworthy guide into the realm of the Spirit and my own soul.
And I journal. Three pages every day. I call them the morning pages, and it’s a practice I picked up from Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way. I can write about anything, even about not wanting to write! But it helps me process life, talk to God in a focused way, and write down what I hear Him saying in response.
In response to a challenge by Barton, I started a daily Examen, where with the Holy Spirit, I examine each day for signs of His presence and work around me, and assess how I’ve come alongside Him or been at cross purposes with Him. It’s an ancient Ignatian form of prayer, and I’m finding it very helpful in my quest to be more alive to His presence in and around me.
I do read as well. Fiction even! But I’m fussy about what I read. I want stuff that is gentle, that feeds my spirit and is full of life. It’s tricky to find good fiction that doesn’t have defiling bits in it, but with the help of friends I’m compiling a list. I also read non fiction in my field, and this year at the cottage read three books by new friends that I made at the New Monastic Consultation last month in BC. Slow Church by Chris Smith, and The Sacred Year and Under the Overpass by Michael Yankoski. Michael has asked me to write a review of The Sacred Year prior to it’s release and sent me a pre-release copy. I loved it and you all need to read it, and I will devote a whole blog to it shortly.
Cottage is time for puttering as well. Cooking, getting wood for the wood stove. Quiet work with my hands. Very soul filling for me. I even did some more felting!
Kirk and I began doing a daily Lectio Divina each day together and we are slowly prayer-reading and meditating our way through the gospel of Mark. He’s not much of a reader, so some evenings I would just read him the highlighted bits of books I was reading, and share my learning.
We did also watch some movies, and we also have a family tradition of watching episodes of Home Improvement at the cottage as well. But I felt that it was in good balance with our other activities.
All said, it turned into a lovely 2 week long spiritual retreat for me individually and for Kirk and I as a couple. We had some good conversations about life, ministry, and the way forward together.
And we also had the opportunity to offer hospitality to pilgrims! Some friends came up, and it was good to spend time together in prayer and then send them off in a canoe to hang out with Jesus.
Silence. Solitude. Wilderness places. Loving pilgrims who came our way.
I could totally live like this – maybe Kirk and I inspire a movement of cottage mothers and fathers!