During the week before Thanksgiving, I found myself in Texas, in a paint-splattered canyon dripping with rain and shivering down to its soaked cedar branches. I had come with friends, traveling in a van loaded with some of my favorite people, meeting up with dozens more sojourners whose paths were converging. We lingered around the table, laughed in front of the fire, and leaned in deep when the conversation turned serious.
Retreats at Laity Lodge are just like that.
But while most all the other participants snapped photos, jotted down notes, or even doodled pictures, I sat still. No camera, no journal or pen, no sketchpad. I wondered what it would be like to experience an unrecorded weekend. I couldn’t remember.
As a writer, I’m always scribbling down something on whatever piece of scrap paper I can find. To be more efficient, I’m gradually typing up those ideas and descriptions so I can search them and find them. Recently, I discovered the wonder of voice memos while I am walking or driving. Sometimes, I snap photos of signs rather than write down information or type it into a note on my iPhone. When my family is together, we take pictures of outings or moments of significance. However it happens, I’m always recording, capturing, or preserving.
But am I experiencing the moment in all its largeness or am I limiting myself to the smallness of a 2×4 screen? Am I really listening to what others say or merely catching the highlights while I plan my next essay? Is my heart really happy or am I just smiling for the camera?
I didn’t want to miss what was waiting for me that weekend in Texas. The last few weeks had been full of recording and preserving. I needed a few moments just to live.
Throughout the weekend, my heart squirmed wildly as I heard messages that were spoken directly to me there in the Great Hall. “I’m talking to you,” one of the speakers said loudly, looking right at me, during his presentation. He wasn’t really talking to just me, of course. But in that moment, it felt like it.
I should write this down, my brain whispered to my heart. He’s talking to us. You may think we’ll remember what he’s saying. But you won’t. I won’t. We always record the things we need to remember.
And I was tempted. The truth that was emerging from the speakers and musicians was providentially lining up, and the messages were orchestrated, but not by anyone at the retreat. My heart was crying out yes! I need this.
I watched others scribbling quickly, taking pictures of slides projected on the wall, recording songs with their Smart Phones. I even thought about purchasing a copy of the official recordings that were being made of the weekend. But I kept my journal, my phone, and my credit card tucked neatly in my bag. I worked hard to listen and not drift off. If I was going to remember any of this, the truth would have to emerge from whatever settled down the deepest into my soul.
I returned home from Texas just days before Thanksgiving and just one week before Advent. While shifting into high gear for the holidays, I also have been poring over the Psalms of Ascent, looking for Advent truth to speak to my tired soul. I need hope, I need courage, I need patience for the waiting. Do these traveling songs really hold messages for 21st Century media junkies?
Words from the Psalmists I shovel into my soul mix with the messages and lyrics of the theologians, writers, and musicians I met in Texas.
They jumble out like this:
The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in. The Lord will redeem your unhappy endings and help you find a pure beginnings.
Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. So why am I laboring so hard to build it myself?
Lord, hear my voice, as I hear Yours, creating something in the world, in me, from nothing but a Word.
For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His Habitation. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Lord, I wait on You, as I seek to do something others will want to write about before I ever write a word.
And as I read and remember, study and search, I see that the truth of these Psalms, the Advent truth for my distracted heart, began there in the canyon.
Jesus is calling me to pay attention.
I’ve started recording things again. I took pictures of the concert Steve and I enjoyed last Friday and of our middle son’s first basketball game last night. On a sticky pad in front of me are the words, “I Make Mistakes” that is supposed to remind me of an essay I want to write about perfectionism. (TRUE CONFESSION: I just jotted down a few more notes about that idea because I was afraid I hadn’t captured enough to truly remember.) I asked SIRI to add a couple of reminders to my iPhone task list on the way to work yesterday morning so I would be sure to make some phone calls and emails.
But I also made an incredible batch of soup on Saturday from scratch. No recipe. And even though Steve and I both loved it and would enjoy having it again, I didn’t write down the ingredients or even try to guess at their measurements.
Instead, I let the lentils and the orzo tickle my tongue. I admired the way the potatoes thickened the broth that started from water. And I marveled at the way the onion, celery, and garlic created a flavorful base. The herb de Provence, the onion powder, the dash of Turmeric – each indistinguishable, but together, masterful.
Later, with that satisfied feeling that comes from a hearty meal, I picked mushrooms and spinach from my teeth.
Photo by Sam_Catch, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.