Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Golden Thread

I said I would report back later. Yesterday I returned from the three-week intensive retreat called Journey. It’s a program offered by Dr. Bryan Van Dragt in Gig Harbor, Washington. Bryan is a remarkably gifted and skilled Christian psychologist/spiritual director.

I have been on a lot of retreats, but never anything like this. The retreatant is to have no distractions—no internet, no telephone calls, not even books (except the Bible). “Boredom is your friend,” said Bryan early in our time together. You just have to trust that that is so, and discover what emerges in the empty hours.

The retreatant meets with Bryan very early in the morning Monday through Friday for a double appointment, and then returns home to the cabin that is provided for the duration. Bryan gives you a topic for that day’s reflection, very generally, in a very few sentences. For the rest of the day, apart from meal preparation and other necessary labors, there is nothing but silence and a journal. I filled 194 pages with handwritten notes—probably more than 30,000 words.

The cabin is located on Fox Island in Puget Sound. Here is a photograph taken from a fishing pier at the east end of the island, looking south.

Although there are many residences in the area, most of them are surrounded by old growth forest. Many homes cannot even be seen until you are right upon them. Here is a photograph of the cabin from one of the nearby streets.

Journey is not intended to be a restful retreat, but an encounter with God in the depths of oneself. I found it very hard at the beginning but the rewards began to come within a few days. Toward the end of the first week, I began to do almost nothing but go through all the memories I could possibly bring up from the first two dozen years of my life. Doing this at age 59 was, well, amazing. After a few days, a life without distractions had become almost second nature, and my reflections continued without ceasing, even during meal preparation, taking a shower, or during walks. A great peace settled into me that remained until the end. Then I was ready and eager to come home.

I was greatly blessed by the experience. It was astonishing how many of the great mysteries of my life were solved. Patterns, feelings, habits, attitudes, fears, interests, and joys that have marked my life for decades, whose origin I never knew or understood, became clear and fit together into a whole fabric. I might even say that I have no major questions left, and have come back very much changed.

Sometime early in the retreat, as I drove back to the cabin (eight miles from the office), there was early morning fog through which the newly-risen sun was shining with spectacular beams. I took several photos; this one seems to be the best of the lot. If there is a single photo that could capture what Journey was like for me, it would be this one.

One foremost theme that came through my reflections, the journaling, and the appointments is that there has never, ever been a time when I wasn’t aware of God’s presence and guidance, from my very earliest memories up until now, even in the darkest and most painful of experiences. In my journal I called this “the golden thread”. In everything God’s timing has been flawless, even in dreadful reversals and times of suffering. In periods of joy but also in every single dark, agonizing, or confusing period of my life, there was always the “golden thread” for me to follow, which I knew was the sureness of God’s presence. Bryan said that if he could give one gift to everyone, it would be that.

It will take some time, of course, to assimilate the changes, and maybe to show them. I have one more week or so to ease back into normal life, and to reflect on the experience. I will be back at church on Sunday, November 18, and my sabbatical will be over.


Sarah said...


Welcome back! I love your pictures--they remind me of the time I spent up there.

Take care of yourself this week. I'm still praying!

Joi said...

We missed you! :)