Retreating from a Noisy Heart by Wilson Wayne Grant, M.D.
The road from the hustle of modern life to the Frio River is not so long in miles. But it is a momentous journey emotionally and spiritually. The final leg of the trip to Laity Lodge, hugging a bluff overlooking the Frio River in the heart of the West Texas Hill Country, is symbolic.
We leave behind the high rises, traffic snarls, crowds, competing demands, and urgent schedules. Only scattered windmills pushing above the horizon remain as markers of civilization. We turn off the paved highway onto a packed dirt road. After a few twists and turns down a steep incline, we are facing the Frio River. We brake suddenly to a halt. The sight amazes me each time I turn this corner. The well-worn ruts run straight into the rolling water. The sign at water's edge smiles its striking message: "Yes, you do drive in the river." An arrow points upstream. We turn into the water and find ourselves inching up river, the tires gripping the flat limestone which forms the river bottom about 10 inches below the surface of the water.
After a quarter of a mile or so, the road eases out of the river onto dry land. A short distance up the hill sits Laity Lodge, the retreat center that draws participants from around the world. Embraced by century old oaks, it is quiet, set apart; a very different place from that of my daily life. It is the perfect place for retreat. Many will testify along with us of memorable moments spent in the reflective quiet of this place.
This time, however, Veronica and I will not be meeting a group of fellow searchers in the main lodge. We are spending a few days at the Wayfarer's Cottage, or Quiet House as it is commonly called. The Quiet House is set up on a hillside away from signs of the hustle of civilization. It is designed for an individual or couple to experience a more personal, introspective retreat from the demands of daily life.
I bring with me one of my favorite books. I first read Nurturing Silence in a Noisy Heart, by Wayne Oates many years ago. On a lark, I pulled it off my bookshelf to take with me this time. I am glad I did. Dr. Oates points out that the noise of daily life can keep one from listening to, and attending to, the whispers which are truly important. The opportunity to escape the noise allows us to re-orient ourselves and re-calculate our priorities. Escaping the noise is exactly what retreat provides. As Dr. Oates states, "You look for the green pastures and still waters of silence to heal your noisy heart in the middle of a hectic existence."
The first time I drove my car into the Frio River and headed upstream, I could not take my attention off the water rushing around the wheels. Driving in a river! How different! Then the symbolism grabbed me: "That's why I am here!" I need that rush of water on my soul to wash away the grit of daily routine, pressing urgents. I had left behind in the city many hectic weeks full of pressures and demands. Driving upstream, with the water flowing about me, I feel these cares, worries, anxieties being washed away. By the time I exit on the dry bank at Laity Lodge, I feel clean, free, unloaded.
To retreat--to turn loose of the daily grind, find cleansing and renewal--is something we all need. We need that opportunity to clear the senses, release the need to be in charge and again see life in all its vividness and color.
In the Gospel, Mark reports that after a particularly busy and demanding time, "Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone." (Mark 9:1) After a while, Jesus came down from the mountain confronted by the demands of the needy world of the valley. Again, he listened, he healed, he challenged. He met his calling with renewed vigor. I thank God that Jesus, in his humanity, showed us the need and the rightness of pausing, catching our physical and spiritual breath, and then moving on.
Jesus needed retreat. If Jesus needed it, you and I definitely need it.
Jesus also teaches us something else about retreat. There comes a time after rest, renewal, retreat, when we re-enter the world of activity and work. We pack up and come home and immerse ourselves in the noise of daily living. But we come home, to work, to relationships with new vigor and insight which equips us to face the needs of our noisy world with energy and direction.
My Frio River experiences at Laity Lodge and other special places have served as high points in my life. They have provided a special kind of retreat. But retreat can come in a variety of ways. I experience a mini-retreat every Thursday afternoon in my garden as I dig, weed, and reflect on growing things and how God is at work in nature. I find it in a quiet walk about my neighborhood in the evening. I find it as I get lost in a good book. I find it each morning in a quiet time of meditation and prayer.
However and wherever we find retreat, I pray we all will feel the virtual rush of Frio River water about us, washing away the grit of a Noisy Heart so that we can hear the silence of God. Finding this for ourselves, we can then share it with those we are called to help.