Recharging the batteries - going on retreat

Well, tomorrow I leave for Brittany to do my annual retreat with about 30 other Brothers (all French) at the Benedictine monastery of Landevennec, situated on an isolated peninsula on the west coast of Finistère (Brittany, France). I've been on retreat there before a couple of times and there are some glorious walks along the coast and through the forests.

Landevennec 11 Bis-2

The abbey church.

Z Landevennec

It is part of our congregation's Rule of Life that the Brother must go on an annual retreat, if possible with confrères, to recharge his batteries spiritually (and physically), to take stock of his life, to further discern the meaning of his vocation, etc... We will be having a few talks given by the Abbot of the monastery and by a member of our congregation's Provincial team.

I always look forward to such times as privileged moments of grace for various reasons. One is that even though we do not talk (at least for the majority of the week) it is good to spend time with confrères, i.e. members of my religious family, many of whom have become good friends of mine.

I've always been drawn to monastic life and I think I always will be: the attraction of the "desert" experience, but also of a tightly-knit community of monks whose life is structured around the 3 principles of prayer, manual work and study. I always find slotting in to such a routine liberating. The challenge for "urban monks" like us Brothers is to live out the monastic ideals of contemplation, service and intellectual/spriritual stimulation in our daily lives as apostolic (in our case teaching) religious. Not always easy, but one we certainly should always aspire to.

The following article from the Catholicism, holiness + spirituality blog talks of this need for recharging in the context of the Gospel reading from Mass on Feb. 8th.

Catholicism, holiness and spirituality: Recharging


Today's Gospel talks about how Jesus spent time curing the sick and casting out demons, and then the morning after he gets away by himself from all that to spend some time in prayer:

In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.

This is the part of the Gospel that jumped out at me, speaking to me this morning. Jesus, like most everyone I know, worked hard every day. He spent his days and nights fulfilling his mission, and that took a lot of energy - there are all kinds of examples of that through the Gospels. And there are also passages like the one above, telling us how Jesus got away from the crowd, even away from his disciples, to go pray in solitude. I think that was his way of recharging, of regaining some energy and perspective.

So if Jesus worked hard and took breaks to recharge, maybe we can work hard and take breaks to recharge. I know many people work hard, and work a lot, and many of them aren't taking those breaks to recharge. They say, There are just so many things to do, to get done, and if I don't do them then who will? I know all that, I've been there... and it was one of the most destructive habits I've ever had.

I think the fact is that there often is too much work for us to get done, particularly those of us who are parents or who are caring for our parents... and for those of us who are self-employed or in family businesses, or working hard to hold on to a good job, or working hard simply to hold on to the job we have, or those who are working hard to hold a family or a relationship together, or recovering from an illness or injury. Sometimes, often-times, life is hard and we work hard to get through the day. It can be easy to commiserate with Job when he says:

Is not man’s life on earth nothing more than pressed service,
his time no better than hired drudgery?
Like the slave, sighing for the shade,
or the workman with no thought but his wages,
months of delusion I have assigned to me,
nothing for my own but nights of grief.
Lying in bed I wonder, ‘When will it be day?’
Risen I think, ‘How slowly evening comes!’
Restlessly I fret till twilight falls.
Swifter than a weaver’s shuttle my days have passed,
and vanished, leaving no hope behind.
Remember that my life is but a breath,
and that my eyes will never again see joy.

But if Jesus took breaks to recharge, then why not us? If he took time for himself to go pray alone, why not us? What recharges you? What is it that you can do where you come away feeling refreshed, energized, and optimistic about engaging life? How can you work that into your routine to make sure it happens regularly (hint: yes, you can fit it into your day!)?

Of course, you may be more like Paul than Jesus*. Paul says:

I do not boast of preaching the gospel, since it is a duty which has been laid on me; I should be punished if I did not preach it! If I had chosen this work myself, I might have been paid for it, but as I have not, it is a responsibility which has been put into my hands. Do you know what my reward is? It is this in my preaching, to be able to offer the Good News free, and not insist on the rights which the gospel gives me.

Paul got his charge out of preaching, from engaging other people. And if that works for you, then that's great! Find whatever it is that recharges you, and work it into your daily routine.

* From these scriptures and others, I think Jesus was an introvert and Paul was an extrovert.
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