There is a Benedictine monastery in Cullman, Alabama. It is a wonderful setting for individual and group retreats. I made an individual silent retreat there a couple of months ago. It was my first time there and as I went in the middle of the week, I was for a time, the only retreatant.
The pattern is always the same for me regardless of the length of my retreat. It takes a while to settle in and let go of my life—the concerns about my job, my family, my friends, the world. When I am fully present, the next stage arrives. It is a time of “wire brush scrubbing” when things begin to come to the surface. These are things that I have pushed down or neglected to address. God and I look at them together and address them. Sometimes it is a gentle chiding and sometimes it is a wrestling. I often know in advance what is going to be the issue(s), but have not wanted to face them. It is a time of cleansing, but is a bit painful. Finally, when I have been vulnerable with both God and with myself, we move into the last stage when I lean into God’s embrace. This is such a sweet grace that God gives. At times I come to the retreat with a problem to solve or a decision to make. God’s response is often “no, I just want to love you.”
The beauty is that as I go through the retreat, priorities shift into place and I see more clearly. Problems seem less formidable or I feel more capable of addressing them. It is about letting the silt settle so I can see more clearly. Or another way of saying it—the distractions of life take a back seat for a time and I can be attuned to the Spirit.
Thus it was on this retreat in Cullman. It was a fine Spring Day. I grabbed my journal after breakfast and headed out to walk around the property. I like to spend as much time as possible on these days of retreat outside–walking and finding places to sit and journal or sketch. On this day, I came across a labyrinth. It was lined with stone and moss covered the path. It was a lovely work of art—a combination of the creativity of both God and people. I walked it and then settled on a bench to enjoy the sun and reflect in my journal. After a while, I decided to sketch—a prayer form for me. I typically find a flower or animal (if they stay still long enough) and lose myself in the process. It is a time of not thinking about anything but the intricacy of the object that I am sketching. It draws me close to God as I wonder at the miracle of the object. On this day I looked down and there was a little flowering weed. I was struck by the simple beauty of that weed and decided it would be my subject.
It occurred to me as I was sketching that weeds are a part of life. I try to eliminate them, but they are persistent and keep finding their way back. The definition of a weed (according to the Chicago Tribune) is any plant that is unwelcome or annoying. But this, of course, will vary according to the individual. The Virginia Creeper is a beautiful creeping vine. Yet to my husband it is a weed. He is very allergic to them and does his best to eliminate them from our property. It is a matter of perspective.
As the Spirit took me down this thought path, I began to think about the weeds in my life. What are the unwelcome and annoying things that I get rid of, but they keep coming back? The first that came to mind is control. I offer my cares to God and then find that I have quickly taken them back. This is an endless process! I seem to deal with this subject on every retreat (and I’ve been on a lot!). I jotted down other “weeds” with which I deal, but that did not seem to be the message I was to get. The phrase “the beauty of the weeds” kept coming back to me. What is it that I see in my life as a weed, but that perhaps God’s perspective is different? Perhaps the aspects of my life that I dislike are things of beauty in God’s eyes.
One example that came to me was my full schedule. Regardless of what I am doing or where I am, I tend to keep a lot of plates spinning. There is little margin in my life. This occasionally comes to my awareness and I cut back on my activities; simply to find myself in the same situation a short time later. I get exasperated with myself. I teach balance and Sabbath, for Pete’s sake! Yet the light side of this challenge is that I love life. I love to learn and try new things and be in new situations. I love the next challenge and the opportunity to expand my horizon. There is no end to the experiences that are waiting to be faced. God uses this characteristic when I am willing. Maybe that is the lens that God has when I come yet again to ask for help with trimming down the activities. God put me together in this way and perhaps God sees the beauty in this weed. Or maybe the weed on which I focus is my aging body—the realization that I cannot do all that I could do in the past. Maybe God relishes the learning that happens with this “weed” as I gradually spend less energy on the outer and more on the inner life.
I am not advocating a Pollyanna view but recognition that there is a light side to the fault that I have. I offer my whole self—weeds and all–for God’s use and God’s glory. God will use them. God will use me. There is beauty in these weeds that are a part of God’s creation.
Grace and peace to you,