Essay on a religious retreat

Pilgrim Hills Retreat, Berlin, Ohio

January 2016

What I liked about the retreat was the conversation. Here we were four people in the middle of nowhere, with no TV and no radio. So the questions becomes: “How are we to pass the time?” By engaging in conversation! Meaningful discussion. I am inclined to believe that because we “removed technology” the quality of conversation and discussion improved. I also learned, through experience, what the meaning of a retreat is. It is literally, a retreat from modern society into a “simpler time,” a time without technology.

Some of the things we talked about were philosophical in nature. For example, we talked about the idea of always wanting more. More money, more success, more riches. And how always wanting more is problematic because it makes you feel you don’t have enough. I am an author and that can be a problem: wanting more book sales, more popularity, more success. And it feels like you have too little. That’s a trap to be avoided. The temptation of always wanting more.

The first evening we read some psalms, one from the bible and a few written by regular people. I am struck by the positivity of these psalms. And the humility. And the imagery: “I am like a tree planted by a river… with leaves that are always green.” And I am also struck by the faith that the writers has. They truly believe in God. “God save me! I need your help,” says another one. And when I say they believe in God, I mean they believe in the power of God to help them, as opposed to just the existence of God. To believe as in to have faith in God. As opposed to be scientific about the facts of God. As a religious person I have faith that God exists and wants to help me. I don’t know that God exists. I can’t prove it. But that’s not what religion is all about. It’s about believing. And by practicing religion we cultivate the capacity for belief. Because, just like with everything else, if we stop doing it, we lose our skill to do it. This retreat taught me to practice my religion. It gave me practice.

The next evening we discussed the gospel of Luke. One passage that I am reminded of is “Love your enemies.” This to me is the most essential of Christ’s teaching. And we discussed how hard it can be to love your enemies. It’s easier said than done. And now that I think about it, did Jesus love his enemies? I don’t know. I don’t think it was easy for Christ to love his enemies; certainly it was no easier for him to do so than for any of us. But he tried to love his enemies. But let’s not assume that goodness was easy for Christ. I think it was just as easy for him to be bad as for us. But Jesus was good, because he valued goodness. And I’m sure Jesus made mistakes. But he never gave up the path of goodness. And he preached for us to walk the same path in life. It is hard to be good. It’s not a paved road. It’s bumpy and full of rocks. But it leads to the right place. I am struck by the fact that there have been several teachers who have made it their life’s work to: “show humanity how to live.” Christ, Mohammad, Buddha. Life does not come with an instruction manual. These leaders have written a manual for life. Religion is an instruction manual for life. And in all of these religions goodness and benevolence is paramount.

One other passage we talked about is “ask and it will be given you, search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened for you.” I love this passage. It shows the power of positive thinking. Then Dr. Padberg mentioned another Greek translation that says in fact, “keep asking and it will be given you, keep searching and you will find.” This in my mind throws an entirely different light on the matter. It emphasizes persistence. In life, you have to keep asking, keep searching, keep knocking. There is no way the door will open with one knock. Life is about perseverance and persistence.

This retreat showed me that religion has some of the same ideas I already believe in:  1. positive thinking, 2. goodness and 3. perseverance. If it’s in the Bible, it’s got authority! So I believe the early thinkers of our times, knew what we know, and valued what we value. They put it in the good book. And that’s why the Bible has survived for two millennia because it preaches the lessons of positivity, goodness and perseverance. These lessons have survived the test of time.

 

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