Fr. Dave's Notes
Travel light, Listen Hard and Wrestle with Spirits and God
In the last century, a tourist from America paid a visit to a renowned polish rabbi, Hofetz Chaim. He was astonished to see that the rabbi's home was only a simple room filled with books, plus a table and a bench. “Rabbi, where is your furniture?” “Where is yours?” replied the rabbi. “Mine?” asked the puzzled American. “But I'm only passing through.” “So am I,” said the rabbi.
We may think of retreat time as a quiet time in a lovely place away from our hectic lives to revel in the joy and freedom of God's consolation. Actually, when someone goes on a spiritual retreat, he or she is really “going into the desert to wrestle with angels and demons.” Following Jesus’ own example of struggle with a demon in the desert (Luke 4.1-11), Christians have left life’s normal activities and amenities behind to travel light, listen hard, and then to wrestle with God and the angels, just I like Jacob in the wilderness (Gen 32.22-31). We go to lovely places for retreat, but we ought not depend on a daily fare of spiritual bon-bons,.
Travel Lite, listen hard - neither of these reflects our comfort zone. Rather, we surround ourselves with all sorts of “stuff” to buffer and protect us. Our possessions help us to feel comfortable - and safe. Then we employ incessant sound as a strategy to keep ourselves from hearing what might be challenging or uncomfortable. Still the human heart is restless.
The universal human experience, however, is that we meet the Divine most powerfully only after we divest ourselves of the things that cloy and sounds that distract - that means traveling light and listening hard.
We know about the ancient Chinese art of Feng Shui, the practice and discipline of arranging objects in a space so that the universe's life force (Ch'i) can more easily circulate through it and even accumulate strength within space. However, applying the rules of feng shui to a room means two things: rearranging things (change) and disposing of the extra things, the stuff clogging the ch'i in the first place (detaching, letting go).
Only after these reflective and disciplined actions is balance restored to the place and life force becomes free to penetrate everything.
In our daily spiritual journey, too, we can feel an inner restlessness, the tug for “something more.” We might feel stuck, sluggish, or stale in our spiritual awareness. When that happens, it is time to sit back and look hard at our inner landscape. What does it look like? Too much stuff to move freely? Things blocking me in my desire to connect with God? Too noisy?
It is in the quiet times, like during a retreat, that we can hear and wrestle with questions like these. What in my inner and outer life needs to be moved or removed for me to achieve greater spiritual freedom? How can the Spirit move more freely in my soul? And then - this is the hard part - what needs to go? Where do I need to slim down? Where's the “fat” in my inner and outer life? Just like outer fat makes physical movement difficult, so inner spiritual “fat” can leave the Christian sluggish in answering God's invitation for greater freedom.
Only after listening hard and slimming down can we approach the spirituality we all desire in our heart’s depths.
Vibrant spiritual life challenges us to travel light, listen hard and wrestle with angels and demons - and even with God. Like the Rabbi said, “I am only passing through.”