June 28, 2007
On many occasions, Jesus departed from his busy ministry and the crowds that so frequently surrounded him. He himself set the example that times of reflection are vital for ministry. Sometimes he sought solitude, and sometimes he took his disciples with him to lonely places. Today we call such times “days off”, “vacations”, “retreats”, and “sabbaticals”. Each of these serves a different purpose, but all are intended in one way or another to be times apart from busyness for the purposes of reflection and renewal.
The first retreat I ever took was for seminary students, and took place in 1972. The conductor was an associate priest at St. James’ Anglican Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. It was at Westminster Abbey in Mission, British Columbia. Thirty years later I was back for another retreat at the same place. The abbey had been completely remodeled into one of the most beautiful modern church facilities I have ever seen.
Anyway, the conductor began the first address by quoting this Scriptural passage: “When evening had come, [Jesus] said to [his disciples], ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him” (Mark 4:35-36).
Then he remarked that the line he wanted to emphasize was, “other boats were with him”. He explained that no matter what effort one makes to set one’s personal concerns, stresses, and demands aside for a time of retreat, some distractions will always come along: whenever one tries to “go across to the other side”, “other boats” will always come along, and we just have to accept that.
Thirty-five years later that’s the only thing that I remember about his addresses. It’s a good lesson. One can not be completely free of distractions for long—not on a retreat, not in times of prayer, not in church, not in—well, anything. —And we probably shouldn’t be. “Other boats” are a constant reminder to us that in all aspects of our lives, including our striving for God, we have to live with imperfections. We are to go all-out always for what is best, but at the same time we must be content with the status of things at the moment. It is how we learn that we just absolutely must depend always upon the grace of God’s love and mercy and not our own efforts and achievements. Only God is perfect.