by Christine Sine
Tom and I are just back from a delightful 3 days spent at Anacortes on retreat. In spite of the distraction of breathtaking views across to Guemes Island, and walks along Rosario Beach, it was a wonderfully refreshing and refocusing time. Our last retreat was at the end of December last year when I wrote a list of intentions for 2023. I wrote:
This year I am not making resolutions. Instead I am setting intentions. “Setting intentions is powerful when done properly” says Anna Marie Houlis in How to Set Intentions “It is more than setting goals – it is about being purposeful in pursuing your desire… an invitation to step into your preferred story especially when your intentions solidly align with your values.” She then goes on to say “When setting intentions, it is like laying foundations for what you would like to have, feel and experience, providing you with the opportunity to actively participate in your life the way you want to live it”
Unfortunately I promptly forgot my list of intentions. No wonder I needed another retreat. Here we are half way through the year and I have forgotten what I felt God was stirring within me. Fortunately, as I read through what I wrote six months ago, I realized that God has kept me on track in spite of my forgetfulness. Perhaps it is because God constantly nudges me and reminds me of who I am meant to be and how all that I am doing fits into that.
Interestingly the ways in which my intentions have been lived out is not quite what I expected. Here’s what seems to have happened.
- Strengthening my spiritual practices. As I thought about this I realized that I rarely read the scriptures each morning. Instead I wander around the garden admiring the beauty, inhaling the fragrances and listening to the birdsong. Gardening, creativity and writing are the practices that have drawn me closer to God over the last few months. Acknowledging that these are indeed spiritual practices and making sure that I continue to strengthen them over the coming months is part of my resolve for the future. Instead of sitting in my sacred space constantly distracted by the beauty outside my window, I plan to initiate early morning garden watering as my new spiritual practice. I think it will do more for my soul than the unfocused reading of scripture could.
- Dream and be creative. This second one of my intentions still resonates deeply in my soul. My desires to start a podcast and write another book have had some setbacks but they are a growing passion within me. I suspect that this time of thinking, dreaming and planning will make both of these much stronger projects.
- Live in awe and wonder. Over the last couple of years, following my sinus surgery and the health issues that followed it, I let go of my awe and wonder walks. Reinstituting these has been one of the most inspiring aspects of the last few months, and it is not just as I walk that find myself in the awe and wonder of God. It is also as I garden, as I write poetry and create fun forms of art and spiritual activities that I enter into that awe. I am more convinced than ever that awe and wonder need to be at the centre of my life.
- Build relationships and connections. Part of the joy of the last six months has been the opening up of my life once more to social engagements. My trip to Australia to reconnect to my family was incredible and the added bonus of sharing them with one of my best friends stunned me and left me rejoicing in the goodness of God. Reconnecting to friends here in Seattle and other parts of the country and around the world has added to that delight. Zoom calls have become an important part of our lives and how we interact with people, but there is nothing like that personal contact to enliven our souls.
- Seek regular intellectual stimulation. As an avid reader, my life revolves around intellectual reading and learning, but this too has been greatly enhanced by the opportunities we have had this year to attend conferences, small group meetings and theological discussions. As an extrovert, I learn best through discussion and personal interaction and realize that I need to much more intentionally incorporate these in my days.
- Take Time to Retreat. Setting aside a few days, like we have just done, is wonderful but is not always possible. Setting aside an hour or two each week is often much more doable, and I know that as I move forward through the rest of the year, I need to do this much more intentionally.
- Relax in the presence of unanswerable questions. The longer I walk as a follower of Jesus, the less I realize I understand of who God is. The cosmic God who created the universe so immense and complex, is not a God we can ever hope to understand. We are too small, too limited, too unable to grasp the truths of God. Sitting in that place of uncertainty is increasingly a part of my faith journey.
No wonder I resonated with the words of Mary Oliver’s poem Mysteries Yes which I quoted in last week’s newsletter
Let me keep my distance, always, from thosewho think they have the answers.Let me keep company always with those who say“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,and bow their heads.
My work is loving the world.Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird — equal seekers of sweetness. Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.Are my boots old? Is my coat torn? Am I no longer young and still not half-perfect? Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.The phoebe, the delphinium.The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture. Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart and these body-clothes, a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,telling them all, over and over, how it is that we live forever. ~Mary Oliver