Beauty... violence... beauty... violence... beauty! This was the pattern of our men’s retreat this past weekend as a group of us gathered at Hueston Woods Lodge. The Holy Spirit guided us through three heart-wrenching discussions about racial, sexual, and spiritual violence in the world today and in Scripture. Although these moments of learning were meaningful, thought-provoking, and honest, I learned the most about God between the lessons.
As a leader of the retreat, I carved out intentional time between the lessons for the men to literally “retreat.” I figured, in-between three intense discussions, they would want time for themselves to meditate, unwind, and reflect. I pictured them sitting alone on a bench by the lake, or hiking along a path in the woods alone. The environment at Hueston Woods was certainly conducive to sitting back and enjoying nature all by oneself. Although solitude is important, and God often speaks to us in when by ourselves, what actually happened at this retreat was fascinating.
What was meant to be meaningful moments of isolation, turned into beautiful experiences of community. It seemed that as the conversation about violence got more difficult, our desire to be in community got stronger. Suddenly, whatever we did during our breaks, we did together. We hiked together. We sat by the lake together. We even felt the need to experience silence together. Prior to this weekend, I had ever thought about the difference between silence and solitude. As we ended each session with a prayer, it was as if the word “Amen” was a light switch for joy, laugher, and togetherness.
This retreat taught me an important lesson about the violence that surrounds us every day. We must remain in community. Not only is being together important, but our coming together is one way to actively stand-up against the violence that surrounds us. Through our frustration, question asking, and doubt, God shows up in our lives in the form of relationship. If you hear the far too common stories of violence, and respond as I want to, it is easy to slip into isolation and despair. But, we must resist the temptation to give-up hope.
Being in life-giving relationship with others is what gives us the strength to make it through those moments when we feel alone. Just as darkness needs the light, as death needs the resurrection, our stories of violence need stories of communal joy. Sometimes it may feel like God is distant, but we are never alone. God will always be there through our cycle of hope and despair. As a church, we are here for one another. As children of God, we are never alone. In Scripture, we are reminded to “be strong and bold, to have no fear, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you” (Deut. 31:6).
Together in Christ,