Renewal > Resolutions: Retreating with People and Places

fire and games

“There must be a time when a person of resolutions puts their resolutions aside as if they had all been broken, and learns a different kind of wisdom.”

~Thomas Merton

It’s 2018! Indeed, we are now a couple weeks into it. The new year comes with much celebration–sometimes because a new year has begun and sometimes because the last year is finally over. But it too often feels like the new year is only the change of a calendar; everything else remains the same. In our culture, we have tried to impose change on the new year by something called resolutions. Resolutions are good, as far as they go. Most of us, myself included, could stand to make better choices and cultivate better habits. However, it’s the worst kept secret that most folks have broken their resolutions within a couple weeks and broken them beyond repair in a few months. Perhaps we need something else–or, something first–setting aside our resolutions and learning what Thomas Merton called “a different kind of wisdom.” Before resolutions, we need renewal.

With this conviction in mind, Recovering Abundance hosted a new year’s retreat (our first ever!). Eight folks from Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Tennessee gathered in the Hocking Hills of southern Ohio to start 2018 with renewed hearts, minds, and bodies. When there were other things we could be doing, we carved out time and space to come together and come into the Divine Presence. Why? For many reasons. But the central reason was the daring hope that we can be made new and new things actually can happen, when we open ourselves to the One who makes all things new. We did that through music, teaching, nature hikes, shared meals, conversations of consequence, spiritual practices, good sleep, play, and times of solitude. The weekend went fast but I think we each left renewed in some way, leaving with some grace and guidance for the new year. One guest said:

The Recovering Abundance Retreat was meaningful to me, especially at this time of year. It was an opportunity to reflect on the past year and contemplate on the new year. The setting was ideal for this gathering. I appreciated Andy’s workbook…one I am still using. I know Andy has a gift for helping people understand God’s love for them and teaching how to be still! I am looking forward to the next Recovering Abundance Retreat. I would recommend it to my “spiritual” friends…and even to those who are not. Maybe then they would know they are loved. –LH

The teaching topic for the weekend was the story of Elijah’s renewal. Elijah’s restoration after an experience of deep burnout and breakdown provides an example for us as we seek to walk the path of renewal. We explored several principles of how renewal is experienced and sustained, one of which was the way the Divine Shepherd leads us to places, as well as people, that bring about the renewal we need. For Elijah, it was a broom tree, a wilderness way, a cave, and a mountain. On Saturday of the retreat, it seemed as though we were led to the kind of place and natural environment we needed for our renewal.

I had chosen Hocking Hills for a purpose. It’s a place of unique natural beauty and ecology. We were talking about Elijah in the cave and it seemed appropriate to gather in a region dotted with sandstone caves and cliffs. It was very cold, however, and I figured the group wouldn’t be up for a long hike (especially the folks from Tennessee). Taking this into consideration, I decided we would go to Ash Cave for a nice half mile hike and return for some spiritual practices of the warmer variety. When we arrived at the cave, however, we were surprised and delighted by what we encountered. The waterfall was frozen–not completely from bottom to top, but high enough to create a fascinating frozen formation. We circled around it like a mini, frozen Mecca, taking pictures, touching it, wondering at the colors, and playing carefully on the ice.

frozen colorsfrozen waterfall

After awhile we hiked back and I assumed we were good for the weekend, as cool as the cave and waterfall may have been. However, the group came to consensus that they wanted to keep going, hiking to another frozen waterfall about 2.5 miles away (the temperature was still in the single digits, mind you). I was surprised but glad to see energy forming around a practice that was meaningful to people. Five of us proceeded with that hike while the rest of us drove and enjoyed a shorter hike to Cedar Falls. During our evening worship, several people shared about their experiences of the waterfalls and of the way Hocking Hills–and the Creator–hosted and taught us during that time. Elijah had his tree, desert, cave, and mountain. We had our hemlock trees, cave, snow, and frozen waterfalls. Our Creator is kind, wise, and resourceful in reaching us, in teaching us, in renewing us.      

An unofficial mission and motto of Recovering Abundance is to discover and share resources for rural renewal: renewal for rural communities and renewal through rural communities. The 2018 new years retreat was a lovely example of how rural places can become environments for renewal.

If you haven’t had the chance to set aside time and space to begin the year with renewal, I recommend you do so in the next couple of weeks. It’s helpful to open ourselves to the guidance and grace for the new year that is already making its impact on us. What will be your focus? Who will be your companions? What will be your practices and priorities? But even if you don’t take time to do so, be open this year to places and spaces that bring renewal. Be open this year to the ways the Divine Shepherd grounds and guides us through nature, whether it is a shading, sheltering tree, a frozen waterfall, or something else entirely.  


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