This past Sunday afternoon through Tuesday noon Joel and I attended the Northeast Iowa Synod pastors retreat in Dubuque Iowa. It was the first time I went, so I was looking forward to the retreat and meeting some of Joel's colleagues.
My expectation was that we would be engaged in what Bonnie Gray calls "spiritual whitespace" A time of rest and renewal....in ways that bring you peace and joy and healing.
There was a speaker from Chicago's ELCA headquarters whose list of accomplishments and degrees took 5 minutes to read! She lived and breathed academia, and for six hours over 2 days we took in her lectures. I am not a theologian, but I was not the only one who found her fascination with research and presentation of Jesus as male and female a bit, actually more than a bit unsettling. For me it was also frustrating and definitely not relaxing. It was hard work for my brain to stay engaged. I speak from my heart first and run it through my brain. She spoke from her brain.
On day two I looked around and observed other rostered pastors, spouses, and staff. Were any of them waiting for the point to be recognized, and how to apply this information to ourselves and our congregations? Many had their iPads, tablets, and phones in hand. Some were checking emails and Facebook (yep), others were taking notes. I was making an effort to stay focused.
Don't get me wrong, there is a place for this kind of learning, although in all honesty, you could not pay me to sit through it again! What kept running through my head was the question..."Is this a retreat or continuing education?" In my opinion, there was nothing restoring or healing about those hours spent on hard chairs.
In search of spiritual whitespace, I began to look forward to the worship times. A man named Richard Bruxvoort Colligan led worship with Psalms set to music, using guitar, banjo, and drums. It was beautiful, as we sang David's songs of lament and praise. He would engage us in deep breathing, prayer for those on our left and right, and have us sit in silence until it became almost uncomfortable. In these morning and evening moments, spiritual whitespace existed. Moments to restore, rest, renew. Moments to connect with Jesus in intimacy, One on one. We also attended a service at Wartburg Seminary. There is nothing like hearing a church filled with pastors singing. Oh my the power in their voices! Great food for the soul.
Reflecting back on these days, I realized that no matter the circumstances, we have the opportunity to seek out and find spiritual whitespace, as we did within the beautiful music, the powerful church service at the Wartburg chapel, and even while swopping stories of our first years of ministry with friends over a meal. Seek and ye will find..... God waits patiently for us, in nature, in church, in our living rooms, even in hotel conference rooms. He longs to give us nourishment for the soul.