I love going on retreat. My wife probably knew that when she suggested many years ago that I take a more positive approach to Lent. A priest friend of hers (as well as many others) referred to Lent as the Church’s annual retreat. The imitation of Christ, going into the desert, is one of the prime metaphors for a retreatant. Ever since that suggestion, I’ve tried to go to bed on Mardi Gras expecting to wake the next morning on retreat, if not in geography, in spirit.
It worked again.
I was up before the alarm, and made it to 6:15 Mass well ahead of schedule. I had things to do, but it was easy to enter into the mood. Getting a good night’s sleep was key, as I’ve been running a bit low on sleep the past few nights.
One of my favorite and most valued spiritual directors, Fr Tim, ran the Marygrove Retreat Center (see photo) for years. It was he who always encouraged me to get lots of rest as I embarked on my annual silent retreat in the Upper Peninsula. I often found that as my retreat grew more intense, I would be awake long enough.
It seems to move against the example in the garden of Gethsemani to stay awake, but Fr Tim was very wise. At least it worked out that way for me on my many retreats there. It is one thing to deprive oneself of sleep for an occasional good purpose: comforting a child, working late on an important project, or something of that nature. But late nights at work every evening? Television? Computers? Nonsense or even sinful behaviors?
I’m taking to heart the old advice from my director and making sure I get plenty of sleep the next few days. The time in the garden is still a long way off. The journey will be long. Our bodies have been buffeted by all sorts of nonsense and worse these past 325 days. If we’re going to run to win lets make sure we pace ourselves for the long haul, and not fizzle out by the First Scrutiny.
I think there’s wisdom in easing one’s body and mind into Lent, especially if we’re going to take it seriously. Some spiritual bedtime reading before turning off the light: that sounds good to me. Forget SportsCenter or Colbert. Watch that movie with my wife early: that sounds good to me. It gives me a chance to wake up with the alarm, not rolling over, not using the snooze button, and to approach every day like it was Ash Wednesday.