Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Cave

Brian McGee
August 5th, 2012
Fuller Seminary • SP500
Spiritual Traditions and Practices
Glen Eyrie • Colorado Springs, CO
Silent Retreat Reflection

Do I stay on the path or do I climb the rock face? These are my lasting reflections from my time of silence following our retreat at Glen Eyrie. I came into our week of classes exhausted after two, week long Young Life camp trips combined with the preparation and follow up work that comes with them. My physical exhaustion was only multiplied by my mental exhaustion from preparing for our class. Emotionally and Spiritually, I was crushed. The day before I left for Colorado, I was told by my local committee that my position with the area was being consolidated with my director’s job and that my services we going to be transitioned out of our local area. I missed my wife and daughter, and deep down, just wanted to run away from life.

Regardless of how I felt on the inside, I packed my bags, put on a smile, and went off to class. In our time of retreat, a lot of the work that we had been doing was able to permeate my defenses and work into those cracks in my heart caused by the last month of trials. After our morning dismissal, I walked over to Echo Rock Canyon and saw a trail head. I live on a flat island that lacks real opportunities for wilderness adventure, so my decision was already made for me, I was taking this trail where ever it went. It was an aggressive climb along the side of some beautiful red rock spires. I came to a part of the trail that forked off naturally away from the rocks and a path that looked a little less traveled along the face of the rock formations. I wasn’t ready to take it easy, so I continued to follow the path along the rock face. I scaled the side of the sloped path, feeling the soft sand and grit work its way into my fingers, a feeling I had been longing for.

I arrived at the top of the path, the rock face leveled off to form a new trail that encircled a final rock spire. I felt really satisfied with my decision to not take it easy. As I reflected on the climb, thoughts rushed my mind from the last six years of my journey. My imagination drew connecting points from my life journey and my recent climb. I was on the top of a large rock with a trail before me that I can continue to travel on, this was an optimistic forecast for what was before me. I felt reminded that my journey was not over.

I spent the next hours exercising the techniques found in Saint Ignatius of Loyola's Examen process. Psalm 84 quickly brought me back to my teenage years. One of the first worship songs that I learned while part of my first small group Bible study was “Better is One Day”. It allowed me to easily acknowledge all of the great gifts God had given me. I really enjoyed spending some time just sitting in verse 10, “I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked.” Over the last few months, as I forecasted my career change, I anxiously worried about whether I should stay in a ministry environment or to take a position in the business world using my graphic design degree. This verse helped me to remember that whether I do one or the either, I should avoid the earthly spoils of comfort and power that would come with living the good life. I entered into my period of  asking. I wanted to know God’s desire for me, I wanted to know who he saw me as. Before he answered, I needed to unveil myself of what I was not. My life is filled with many false gods that require me to placate my identity. I entered into a period of admitting these sins and repenting from serving under them. I would no longer allow money, power, achievement, and comfort to control me. I declared that I would enter my Lord’s house and dwell there, resolving to find my comfort only in him. Psalm 32 was a sweet acknowledge of his forgiveness, and brought a new joy into my heart.

At the completion of the examen, my heart felt rejuvenated, but unchallenged. The worries that age a man, felt temporarily lifted, and a teenage fire burned within my bones. I longed for something stupid, something irrational; I wanted to do something without limitations. I walked along side the path surrounding the rock spire, and I saw a small cave about 30 feet up. There was a natural crease in the rock formation that would make for a possible climb. I tossed aside my bag and sweatshirt, and grabbed ahold of the rock. I climbed up to the cave and sat down to rest. I was overcome with excitement that I had done something that really involved risk. There are a lot of things in our daily lives that we consider risky, just driving a car in New York for one thing is taking your life into you own hands, but the risk is negated by a sense of repetitive numbness. There isn’t a healthy fear and sense of satisfaction that comes with achieving the risk when there is a visible safety net in place. 

As I sat in the cave, I reflected back on what I had done. The climb up the rock face required a lot of sacrifice. I had to take off the things I was carrying that would burden me. I had to step out of my comfort zone by walking off of the known path. I had to scale upward on an unexplored surface without the proper gear or safety personnel. I knew that the path that God has for me in the near future will be very similar. There will be things that I need to let go of: relationships, family proximity, and responsibilities. I won’t necessarily have what I need for the journey, but God will provide a way and urge me forward. I won’t be familiar with the path ahead, but it will test me, challenge me to grow, and provide a new perspective into not only God, but also a bird’s-eye view into myself. The alternative path would be safe, familiar, and while challenging, will not guarantee the opportunity for a new perspective.

While I was in the cave, I positioned myself to look deeper into God’s word in a period of Lectio Divina. Psalm 139 was my guide in this time. I really connected with it’s themes of overcoming abandonment. I rested on the verse: “search me O God, and know my heart, see if there be anything in me that offends you, and forgive me.” I repeated this prayer continuously as I rested in the cave. I was reminded of two additional scriptures as I contemplated the magnitude of God’s word. The first was the Old Testament account of Elijah in the cave as he searched for God’s voice in the earthquake, the firestorm, and the great wind, but could not find it. God’s voice came in the soft and gentle wind. The second account was from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus reminds us not to worry, for look at the flowers in the field, how they are more beautifully dressed than even Solomon's court. I glanced outside of the cave and there growing along the edge of the rock were small little flowers, not only surviving in arduous conditions, but thriving. I took a picture of the view [cover page] to remind me of God’s promise. He spoke to me in a very gentle wind that day.

It was good to begin my climb down and return to our class room where we could enjoy the Eucharist together. I am very grateful for the opportunity to reflect and to grow in my perspective of how God see’s me. The class offered me several opportunities to grow in community and to share my insight with others, as we all grow closer to Christ.

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