I know that I need to have time away from social media, away from my iPad and phone and away from the crowd. I need times of refreshing, times alone with my God.
Jesus regularly retreated into the hills to pray, sometimes overnight. Paul retreated to Arabia, Moses to Mount Sinai and Elijah to Horeb, the mountain of the Lord.
Significantly they all returned to crowds envisioned, having heard from Almighty God.
I was inspired by the example of the monks of St Catherine’s monastery, Lebanon to be more intentional about my devotional life. We can draw inspiration and wisdom from the example of the lives of believers who have gone before us, by the lives of the saints.
I have a memory of watching a programme about monastic life with my father. I was young and ignorant and reacted by saying that it was a waste of a life. My father said, ‘It all depends on whether you believe in the power of prayer or not.’ As my father identified as an atheist and I as a new Christian, I was mortified.
I still try to follow Jesus’ instruction to be in the world, but not of the world, but I secretly envy those who have retreated into a life of harmony, peace and contemplation of the eternal, the divine.
Maybe it looks different from the inside, but I am drawn to a retreat from the hassle and bustle of modern life, which is full of distractions of sparkly things with no lasting value.
Elijah Ran Away
Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”
Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.
When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die.
“I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank.
Strengthened by that food, he travelled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.
There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
1 Kings 19 v 1-9
Elijah ran away because he was afraid of Queen Jezebel, because she had threatened to kill him. He felt alone and desperate. Firstly, as we have already read, an angel was sent to feed him and give him sleep. Then, he was sent on a pilgrimage to Mount Horeb.
There, he heard the still, small voice of God.
The Lord recommissioned him, telling him to anoint a new king of Aram, a new king of Israel and Elisha as his own successor.
Elijah had believed a lie: that he was the only prophet left, but God knew that there were seven thousand in Israel who had not worshipped Baal. So now Elijah knew he wasn’t alone.
The Lord even told him the way to go back
– the same way he had come and through the desert of Damascus.
When we look for God, and search for His face, He will answer us.
Sometimes he will give us detailed instructions, like here. Sometimes he will show us how we can change the situation we are in, but even if he doesn’t, he will always encourage us.
Once, when I felt myself heartbroken, I cycled around Devon, staying in deserted Youth Hostels. I had just broken an engagement from my fiancé and my soul needed healing and restoration. This is possibly the closest I have been to going on retreat. I hope to rectify this one day.
Watching the monks in St Catherine’s monastery I absorbed the beauty of the surroundings, the haunting plainsong and the simplicity of the life.
I heard the still, small whisper to spend more time in the presence of God - to put aside the frantic activity and the noise of the day – to come aside to the streams of living water – to lie down and rest for a while in green pastures – to allow the Good Shepherd restore my soul.
That is the call of God for us all, whatever your Christian tradition.
Father Seraphim Chants Psalm 50 in Aramaic
It is generally agreed that Jesus’ first language was Aramaic, and Aramaic dialects still survive today among scattered minorities originating from the borders of Iraq, Syria and Turkey. There are a few thousand native Aramaic speakers in Georgia.
Father Seraphim is one of this later group. He is ethnically Assyrian and used to be a bodyguard and champion wrestler. Having been saved from various accidents, such as falling into a cement mixer, he decided to dedicate his life to God by becoming a monk.