by Victoria Thomas
A few months ago I was sitting in a pub in Edinburgh with a two-cup pot of tea and the yellow flashcards I had made for my Old English class. I had spent the past three weeks trying to strong-arm two hundred not-so-English-sounding words like ætgædere and arweorϸe into my brain while simultaneously cranking out two major assignments and shoveling in quite a bit of reading. Every night I had been grinding my teeth into pain, ulcers had popped up all over my mouth, and I was starting to have problems breathing. At the time I had felt it very irresponsible to go to Edinburgh during fall break instead of staying home and studying, but I had promised a friend to go sightseeing with her and so I went anyway. And somehow I got more work done for my Old English class in those few days than I had in the two weeks leading up to my vacation. I felt like stress had been physically lifted off of my shoulders, and for the first time in a long time I could enjoy the fact that I was living in Scotland.
I grew up going to a small Christian private school in Texas. Every year the middle school students and our teachers would go on a retreat to the same cabins in the middle of the woods and we would wade through the little stream at the bottom of the hill and try to skip stones. These retreats were some of the first experiences I had with God: evening praise songs played on an acoustic guitar under the wooden beams of the camp meeting house. I could feel God’s presence tangibly in the room, and I knew my classmates and teachers did too. I remember that a major concern of the adults who preached at these retreats was that we would come back from these intense, personal times with God to an everyday life that would dull us and distract us—that coming off of the mountain our faces would not shine like Moses’s for very long. We would go back to the world and we would forget what God had done while we were up there and we would not grow as we should grow from such an experience.
Now instead of a yearly retreat I go to a weekly meditational Bible study with my university’s Catholic Society and the same problem still exists, only with less physical space in between. When I was a child I moved from city to countryside, and at the beginning of this year I moved from one city to another and stumbled upon renewal, but now I only have to walk down the street to my weekly Bible study to see God’s presence. This has made me wonder at the idea of a retreat. If physically moving yourself from where you normally spend your time to another place far, far away is only helpful—not necessary—for spiritual renewal, then why can we not have a retreat more often in our daily lives? I think that maybe if I stop to look at my surroundings in a new way, if I thank God for something that I pass by every day but have just taken the time to see in a new light, then maybe with His help I can build my entire life into a retreat. Maybe every moment can be a moment spent intensely aware of and connected with my Creator.