Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Tuesday, October 18, 2022

The value of going on retreat

Thursday September 28, 2022

 

There was a fad, a few years ago – maybe there still is – about going on silent retreat. Spending an hour, a day, or a week, alone, in silence. To get in touch with yourself.

            I’m not sure what that would do for me.

            I live in silent retreat. I live alone, since Joan died. I don’t have the radio or TV on during the day – I don’t like disembodied voices nattering away in the background. I don’t wear earbuds. I don’t sink into my cellphone. 

            How would a silent retreat differ? 

            My internet friend Jim Henderschedt wrote about going on a silent retreat: “Being silent in prayer requires trust. Many of us are used to being in control, and the very idea of surrendering to a posture of listening and waiting can be difficult. As a raging extrovert, I’ve found that the times I’ve heard God clarify an enigma in my life usually occurred when I finally stopped talking!”

            Personally, I’m anything but a “raging extrovert.” (Although when I snap into what I think of as “performance mode,” I give a pretty fair imitation of extroversion!)

            But most of the time, I’d rather observe and listen than seek the spotlight. 

 

Listening for a whisper

            I have never minded being alone. One summer during university, I spent two weeks entirely by myself, tending a forestry camp 55 miles from the nearest civilization. 

            I did not go bonkers.

            I have worked as a “loner” most of my life. Writing or editing, it’s just me and the manuscript.  

            It’s a tendency that has grown stronger as I age. As gerontologist Gretta Riddel-Dixon once told me, “As you grow older, you become what you’ve always been -- only more so.”

            Jim Henderschedt recommended silent retreats: “God speaks to us, as he did to Elijah, in a whisper. To hear that, we need to turn down the noise, both external and internal, in our lives.”

            So does living in an ongoing silent retreat mean that I hear God’s whisper more often?

 

God in disguise

            I can’t claim to have heard God’s voice very often. I find that God has usually spoken to me in some other human’s voice. 

            One time, I was dithering about accepting or rejecting a nomination to a prominent position. Then I overheard of fragment of conversation behind me. A friend was chatting with a newcomer. “The great thing about this congregation,” she said, “is that you can say no and they won’t hold it against you.”

            That was exactly what I needed to hear. 

            But you may object, “That wasn’t God! That was another human!”

            I don’t agree. I believe God does speak through humans. Just as God acts through humans. 

            For me, the central doctrine of the Christian faith is Incarnation, not Resurrection. God is embodied. In us. In plants and animals. In the universe. 

            God lives, in life.

            It follows, then, that if God wants to communicate with me, then, it will come through some embodiment of God.

            To hear God, some people have to get away from the clamor of appointments and schedules, of rushing to meetings and soccer practices, of always have something going on in our earbuds.

            I have to get away from my own cocoon of silence. 

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Copyright © 2022 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.

                  To comment on this column, write jimt@quixotic.ca

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YOUR TURN

 

I got almost as many letters about my paraphrase of the first part of Lamentations as I did about last week’s column on squirrels as an invasive species. 

 

Nenke Jongkind called the Lamentations excerpt “a beautiful paraphrase. Thank you!”

            And Jayne Whyte wrote, “Your lamentation of children's grave on a wind-blown prairie really struck me. I too have walked in cemeteries where the marker says "Baby" and the family name.  I too remember the nights when blankets over my head did not stop the wind blowing through the cracks.

“On Truth and Reconciliation Day, we remember the children who died in residential institutions or were sent home to die from tuberculosis or other malady.    I am also aware of the survivors and descendants of the institutionalized First Nations and Metis families. Too often, the wounds are deepened by homelessness, addictions, prison, and illness.  The future generations do feel their pain.  It is indeed a season for Lamentations.

“This is a not a critique of your poetry.  This is giving thanks for your words that express the lost, lonely feelings I have as I ponder my benefits as a settler and my responsibilities as a citizen.  For the Indigenous peoples, I am an invasive species.”

 

Carol Beal McKenzie: echoed Jayne:  “People are the greatest of those deemed invasive!”

 

Isabel Gibson has had a long-running conflict with squirrels. She responded to my comment,  “I doubt if Eastern squirrels can be similarly deterred, any more than Rome could stem the tide of Christianity.”

            Isabel replied, “I hate to think of ‘my’ team being as unwelcome in Rome as squirrels are in my backyard. As one friend says, they're just rats with good PR.

            “I know of no way to deter them -- or even to offer any salutary discouragement.”

 

Mirza Yawar Baig offered a solution: “A delightful narrative about bushy-tailed rats. Are they smart? Tell me about it. Are they athletic? They would put the best Olympic champions to shame. 

            “I have bird feeders and so I have a running battle with squirrels year round. My predominant feeling? Respect arising out of some shame. Who enjoys being beaten by a rat…??

            “Solution: Feed squirrels. Or eat squirrels. 

            “Maybe our Trumpers are right. Some problems can only be solved by guns.”

 

Steve Roney had a similar solution: “Some of the squirrels around Kingston Ontario are blonde. A professor from Ohio was surprised to see black squirrels in Syracuse --. familiar in Ontario, but apparently not seen in the American Midwest.

            “On the north side of Kingston, they find squirrels are edible.”

            JT: Is Kingston’s “north side” considered some kind of less-civilized Dogpatch?

 

Priscilla Gifford had one more adage to add to the previous week’s discussion of meetings: “And then there is this: ’The mind can absorb only what the seat can endure’.”

 

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Psalm paraphrase

 

I’m going with my paraphrase of the alternate reading for this week, Psalm 111.

 

1          The bright blue planet spins in the vast darkness of space;
let all who live on earth rejoice.

2          Only on this one tiny orb do we know life exists;
let all who live on earth give thanks. 

3          The vision takes our breath away;
let all who live on earth open their eyes. 

4          This fragile ball bursting with life is a work of art;
let all who live on earth recognize God's goodness. 

5          Foxes and fieldmice, humans and whales, eagles and ants--
all are woven together in a tapestry of relationships;
let all who live on earth recognize this reality. 

6          And God has delegated responsibility to us;
let all who live on earth be mindful.

7          We must exercise care not to upset the delicate equilibrium of shared life;
let all who live on earth understand their responsibility. 

8          A tapestry cannot be reduced to a single thread;
let all who live on earth accept their responsibility. 

9          This egg floating in the dark womb of the universe is like God's own embryo;
let all who live on earth treat it as holy. 

10        We share an awesome and terrible responsibility;
may God exist forever.

 

Apparently the printed version of my paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary is now out of print. But you can still order an e-book version of Everyday Psalms from Wood Lake Publishing, info@woodlake.com.

 

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TECHNICAL STUFF

 

If you want to comment on something, send a message directly to me, jimt@quixotic.ca.

                  To subscribe or unsubscribe, send an e-mail message to jimt@quixotic.ca. Or you can subscribe electronically by sending a blank e-mail (no message or subject line) to softedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca. Similarly, you can un-subscribe at softedges-unsubscribe@lists.quixotic.ca.

                  I write a second column each Sunday called Sharp Edges, which tends to be somewhat more cutting about social and justice issues. To sign up for Sharp Edges, write to me directly, jimt@quixotic.ca, or send a note to sharpedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

                  And for those of you who like poetry, please check my webpage .https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca, or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blank email (no message) to poetry-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca (If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)

 

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PROMOTION STUFF

 

To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have blocked my posts because they’re suspicious of some of the web links.

                  Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!

                  I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.

                  Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)

 

ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE

                  I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)

 

 


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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Retreats. silence

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