Wednesday, March 11, 2009

To go to retreats or stay home?

Recently, I attended a retreat at Friends House in Barnesville called "Speaking about Christ among Liberal Friends." While I found the retreat rich and meaningful, I came away unsettled. In this particular case, I had been led by the retreat's title to think that I would learn a vocabulary for expressing Christian faith to universalist Friends without offending them. This is important to me, because I do often unintentionally offend non-Christians with my language, and I don't want to do that. I also don't wish to use a vocabulary that is misleading about my own experience.

However, despite the term "speaking," this retreat was not about developing a vocabulary for talking to individual Friends but about infusing Christlike practices into our community. That was actually a deeper and richer topic--I especially liked the emphasis on community--but I wished the retreat had been named something like "Infusing Christ's ways into our communities" rather than "Speaking about Christ among Liberal Friends." As it was, I went out on a limb, because this subject is close to me, and thus I was more self-revelatory and vulnerable than I needed to be about my pain over the Christian/Universalist divide. I ended up feeling a bit unsettled at the end, in that I didn't need to say everything I said.

So good as this retreat was, I wondered about spending so much time in worship sharing that asked people what they wanted from the weekend, heard it and then basically said "OK, but this is what I came to tell you." Why not start at the end point, which is what I described in my prior post? Why not say "this is what I have to tell you" and move forward from there? Then there would not, for me, have been such a disconnect between the retreat's title and content. Especially when what Brian had to say was so good and helpful!!

The retreat also inadvertently made me more sensitive to the feelings of non-Christians, as the word "sin" was used at one point in a not helpful way. I could understand for the first time, not having been raised in a fundamentalist environment, how one could want to flee that kind of judging Christian discourse.

On a bigger picture note, I think I passed the point sometime ago where it's fruitful for me to sit in retreats talking about things. For some, they are the perfect place to be on the journey, but for me, at this point, I think need to be out more actively serving. Often the talk just saddens me, and seems to come out of ego, my own as much as anyone else's. Now I have no problem with ego--I don't think self-emptying into an egoless state is particularly healthy--but on the other hand, when too many people come already "knowing," it can be difficult to break through to the ostensibly desired "authentic" conversation. I tried to push through to that during the weekend, but felt I ended up disrupting an experience people had already decided was supposed to be a certain way. However, I did meet some wonderful, wonderful people, such as Gordon from Canada and Jack from Knoxville (among others).

I am curious about other people's experience with retreats and conferences and such like gatherings? Do you find them helpful? Disturbing? How do you cope when you begin to feel unsettled?


Liz Opp said...

Diane, you write:

"I am curious about other people's experience with retreats and conferences and such like gatherings? Do you find them helpful? Disturbing? How do you cope when you begin to feel unsettled?"

I have mixed experiences at these sorts of gatherings, though one thing is constant:

If I attend with expectations and unmet longings--what topics will be covered; how much large and small group discussion there'll be; will my own concern be addressed; even who the other attenders are--I inevitably have a less satisfactory experience.

When I take the time to release my expectations and enter into a place of not-knowing, I seem to have a more satisfactory experience.

And if I begin to feel "disturbed" or "unsettled," I fall into my own sort of isolated prayer and worship on the spot, head in my hands, and ask for God to bring me to a place of love and vulnerability. At some point, out of that place, I am able to speak to the group or presenter about what I am troubled by, and I find I am often received with equal tenderness.

Still, it is usually my own expectations and unmet longings that get in my way of having a better experience.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Hystery said...

I nearly always find such occasions deeply painful. They were required of me in my graduate programs and I nearly always left them with the thought that they caused people to be artificially emotionally intimate which often resulted in injuries to people whose experiences, difference, or personalities made them especially vulnerable.

The only successful one I ever attended was one run by a Friend who first taught us how to include long periods of silence in our work together.

Diane said...


Hi again. I did realize fairly early on in the retreat --like maybe right away!--that my grid of expectation and need was coloring my experience ...


Thanks for the comment. Same.

Tom Smith said...


I wrote an earlier long comment but somehow it didn't post. I took this to mean that again I was probably interrupting or detracting/distracting from the conversation. That usually happens when I attend conferences. I have been told, correctly, that I take the discussion to too much of an abstract level or introduce other points of view.

I share many of your feelings about retreats and conferences. My most successful times are usually when I talk with another person or very small group. I was at the Stillwater Meeting for Worship on First Day and regret that I could not have had some discussions with some of the conference attendees, especially you. However, I had earlier decided to not attend the retreat for many of the reasons you cite for "staying home," the time did not seem appropriate to interrupt social time or the progress in the retreat.

I appreciate your blogs!


Mary Elizabeth Bullock-Rest said...

It has only been in recent years that I have been able to go to retreats and conferences that are not work related. My favorite thing about the recent Quaker events and conferences I have attended is getting to meet people like you, Diane, whose blogs I enjoy following. There's a connection that seems to happen through voice, face-to-face interaction and touch that can't be replicated on the printed page, though Lord knows I dearly love reading.

RichardM said...

I think you've answered your own question. "for me at this point I need to be out more actively serving." If you clearly feel the call to serve and clearly see some way to serve people around you then going off somewhere to talk about serving isn't appropriate for you. Of course, going to conferences may be just what others need because they are different. But if you know what you are called to do, then leave the conferences to others.

You have food that others do not see and that is to do the will of the One who sends you out the door every day.