Command – on distractions and religious observance

I’m at a silent retreat. I don’t have to do anything. I don’t have to Not do anything either. I could check email. I could check Facebook. One of the nuns even told me I could go watch TV in their communal TV room. Normally that room is off limits to visitors. They have to have some areas that are theirs. We are basically in their home, after all.

But I won’t do anything that involves the outside world. These things aren’t part of the “rules” of the retreat, but they are part of my rules for retreats. I think it is important to unplug and stop long enough for God to get a word in edgewise. Maybe if I’m lucky, maybe if I’m quiet enough, God won’t even have to sidle up to me and can talk to me straight on.

At retreats I also make sure to be vegetarian, or at least pescatarian. When food is prepared for me I don’t always have that choice, but I try. I think it helps keep me mindful.

I’m reminded of Daniel, who wanted to keep kosher, but found that it was impossible to do so where he was. He asked for a vegetarian diet because that was the simplest way to keep kosher. I don’t keep kosher, but the idea is the same. I want to make intentional choices, and one of the easiest things to do that with is food. I want to stay all the time in that space that says “Here I am God.”

I want to go online. It is such an itch. But I know if I scratch it, it will get worse. I don’t have to give it up. All I have to do is be silent. But if I go online I’ll be wasting this gift of time.

So I pray. Jesus, I give this craving to you. I can’t handle it. I’m weak and you are strong. Help me give it up so I can get closer to you.

I’ve come through so many other addictions before this, so many distractions and temptations. Life is a series of these. So many obstacles. Yet they strengthen me, the more I notice them and consciously take myself away from them.

I think just noticing them is a big deal. How many times have I gone on autopilot and just reacted to something or someone without being mindful?

And then there’s Peter, telling Jesus to command him to get out of the boat and walk on the water towards him. He’s giving Jesus control. But how much control does Peter have, when he was the one who asked to be commanded?

It is a bit of a mindbender.

It reminds me of when I’d want to learn more about a topic, so I’d volunteer to teach a class on it. Nobody was forcing me to do anything. Nobody’s forcing me to give up anything on this retreat, other than being silent. I’ve added in all this other stuff. But I think it helps.

It is kind of like any religious observance. If wearing a head covering gets your head in the right place to remember to worship – great. If wearing a certain style of clothing does it, great. If eating certain foods do it, great. It isn’t the head covering or the clothing or the food that does it though. It is the fact that you have decided this is going to be your reminder. You’re using that outside stimuli like a bell, to call you to prayer.

(Written on retreat, around 10 pm, 1-17-14. Added to 1-22-14)