Run Away! Run Away!

As a youth, I was a great fan of Monty Python. The Flying Circus was great and The Holy Grail was…well the Holy Grail!

One of the great expression from Monty Python and the Holy Grail was, “Run Away!”, which was uttered numerous times throughout the film if memory serves, as a replacement for “Retreat!”

Well, I’ve discovered recently that there isn’t a replacement for retreat!

I’m not speaking of natural flight before an overwhelming foe, rather the time-honored tradition of spending a block of time in solitude to re-focus and refresh.

This summer, my head was down in concentration and I was focused on attaining certain milestones in the evolution of the computer network at the private Christian School “Collège-Daniel” where I work in Alsace, France. I was determined to achieve breakthrough and had been working on certain issues for a loooooonnnngggg time. The artificial goal I’d set required that I achieve certain things during the summer break that I simply couldn’t work on effectively during the school year.

Angela had been gone for a month in the States, hoping-against-hope that I’d have wrapped it all up by the time I met her at the airport with flowers in hand (which I did, of course!), and then we could actually relax a bit during the summer break [peanut gallery “snicker” here].

Of course while she was gone, I couldn’t hardly get anything done because I was running the house (and not nearly as efficiently as she does!) So, when I went right back at it at school our “expectation conflict” was beginning to brew.

Eventually it boiled over and soon thereafter I got sick for a week…so, she was right that I was working too much and my priorities were messed up. Additionally, as we reflected together on our “summer of family transition” and our last 8-9 years of cross-cultural adventure and moving from house to house, the accumulated weight of stress in my life became more evident to me.

Run Away! Run Away!

I finally realized just how exhausted I was…spirit, soul and body. It was time for a change of scenery and pace.

I’d heard of a place in Alsace, near Munster, where there was a retreat center run by protestant order of sisters where one could get away for a spiritual retreat. After some checking around, I finally found the Community Center at Hohrodberg (Centre Communautaire du Hohrodberg.) About the same, time a good friend of mine in the States also took a retreat. I knew it was a confirmation. I needed to run away!

So, I took 5 days to spend time resting and talking and listening to God. Of course, I had naively hoped to come back all cleaned up, rested up, filled up and full of clear direction for the year to come (among other things). This was a similar sentiment that I had when I left for our YWAM DTS 9 years ago.

God doesn’t seem to work that way with me…;-)

No, He seems to have a preference for drawing me and coaxing me toward Him via “hedging me in” in ways that are uncomfortable…physically, spiritually, and emotionally. He understands that “perfect bliss” in my natural life doesn’t push me Further Up and Further In!

So Angela drove me about an hour northwest of our home in Soultz to Hohrodberg. The final 10 minutes of drive are a beautiful, winding climb up higher and higher in the Vosges.

The Centre Communautaire du Hohrodberg is a collection of 3 buildings that straddle this winding road as it continues on into the Vosges. I was welcomed by one of the 7 sisters (in the “order” sense of the word) that live at the Center and run it. Their full-time vocation is to pray continually and welcome visitors to the Center. I was shown around and then shown my room. I said good-bye to Angela and settled in for my 4-5 days with the Lord.

My room was named “Horeb” and was situated in the building named “Elim.” It was immaculate! It was small but very thoughtfully appointed – bed, sink, table, night-stand, good lighting, good storage, great view, etc. I really couldn’t have asked for a better situation. I never saw any other rooms but I was very impressed by mine.

Horeb is mentioned several times in scripture; notably as the sight of Moses’ burning bush (Exodus 3:1-3) and Elijah’s encounter with the Lord (I Kings 19:4-18). Elijah’s experience spoke to me while I was there. Here’s a little comparison between his “Horeb experience” and mine:

Elijah David

Starts out exhausted after a concentrated time of heavy-duty ministry

Starts out exhausted after several years of spread-out ministry

Sleeps…wakened by an angel to eat divinely provided foot…repeat 2x

Sleeps…wakened by alarm clocks to eat food prepared by the sisters at the center…repeat 3x/day

Re-finding his strength, goes on 40 day hike to the mountains

Re-finding his strength, goes on 1 1/2 hour hike in the mountains

Experiences wind, earthquake, fire…but no God

Sees where men have experienced wind, earthquake and fire…but no God in fierce fighting in WWI at the “Lingekopf” near the Center.

Experiences calm…and dialogs with God

Experiences calm, where once was war, and dialogs with God

As I mentioned, my time at Hohrodberg, though valuable and peaceful, wasn’t idyllic. Idyllic is something I’d love to experience, but I know that idyllic doesn’t refine me.

At Hohrodberg, one is expected to enter into the community rhythm while staying there. I took a wonderful 3-day retreat many years ago at Sacred Heart in Colorado., and the integration was a bit more “à la carte” there, if you will. I think I preferred that. At Hohrodberg, office is 3-times-a-day, just before meals. The meals are all taken communally, course-by-course, with the breakfast and evening meals being eating in silence. Everyone participates, in turn, in the wash-up after the meals.

Probably what was hardest for me were the meals. I found it annoying to “eat in rhythm” with the serving of the courses. I also struggled with eating in silence with people on my right and left that I didn’t know. I don’t mind silence at all, but I prefer it in conjunction with solitude/physical separation. A crowded room of silence actually feels a bit oppressive to me. The food wasn’t outstanding either, so I didn’t really look forward to meal times.

I had all the rest of the time to myself and it was more than sufficient. But…the “imposed rhythm” marked me enough that I might think twice before going back…or perhaps I’d go back for a shorter time, in a better all-around state. I was more or less in “critical care” when I went, and really wanted to take a break from any particular rhythm…good or bad. I imagine that going there “healthy” for 2-3 days would probably flow much better for me.

I took my English Bible (normally I read from my French Bible, but I really needed to completely relax and reading in French still represents more effort than in English) and two books: Facing Your Giants by Max Lucado and The Pleasures of Loving God by Mike Bickle.

I didn’t take my guitar or a camera. I’m glad I chose not to. The guitar would have been a distraction and the amazing beauty would have endlessly whispered (or screamed), “Capture me! Capture me!” As it is, I captured what I could with camera on my phone and added an album for Hohrodberg on our gallery. Having a “phone cam” however, allowed me to take very quick snapshots without getting sucked into the time-consuming activity of creating photographic works of art (in my dreams!)

The rest, the reading, the prayer, the walking, the offices, the enveloping beauty…all of this combined to communicate a handful of simple messages that have been amplified and confirmed since returning home:

  • Song of Solomon 2:14 is Jesus’ gracious, loving and merciful call to me right now. In my hike, at several points the path I took led me through the “clefts of the rocks.” The call of my Beloved is clear to me…I’ve only to respond.
  • While not intended to penetrate my life as anchors of shame, my weaknesses were underlined to me…in much the same way that God spoke to Elijah on mount Horeb to correct his errant thinking and I limp with them as Israel, né Jacob, did after Jabbok (Genesis 32:22-31).
  • I’ve loved serving God more than I’ve loved God Himself. I’ve been thrilled with the gift of being called into Kingdom service in things that personally I enjoy doing. However, even “enjoyable Kingdom work” does not bring a level of satisfaction and pleasure that greatly surpasses other earthly pleasures, nor does it renew and refresh over the long haul. It drains, perhaps slowly…but surely, and doesn’t provide a “protective pleasure” that makes worldly pleasures “pale in comparison.” Only loving God does that. This is subtle mind you… One can’t focus on loving God directly and somehow leave Kingdom service behind. The two are inextricably bound. It’s an issue rather of motivation and priority…but it is an important issue.
  • The hour is such that my need to make a distinction between the #1 priority of the “One Thing” (Psalm 27:4) and #2-#n priorities can no longer suffer neglect…neglect must now be reserved for my “urgent matters” that pop-up to take me away from my One Thing. Included in the “not #1 priorities” would be clear direction for all activities. That’s for the Lord to reveal when He wants…my pursuit is Him.

Very Strange Indeed

November 11th. Armistice Day. The End of WWI.

For non-European readers, this is a very important day in most of Europe. In the States, we celebrate Veteran’s Day and on the surface, the Veteran’s Day and Armistice Day celebrations are similar. There is another side, however, here in Europe where Death is swirling about as a constant reminder during this season.

Halloween, though controversial still, has taken a foothold, it would seem, in France. That leads into All Saints Day (“Toussaint”) where, in France, a virtual pilgrimage to cemeteries all around the country takes place. Families come together throughout the day on November 1st, some having traveled long distances, to put chrysanthemums on the grave sites of their family members. It should also be noted that this is a major national holiday season with a week and a half off of school leading up to All Saints Day.

Armistice Day Celebration in Albertville, France, 2002Then comes November 11th where in virtually every village and hamlet veterans from every war that are still living come together with local dignitaries and townsfolk around the one of the ubiquitous war memorials. Speeches are made, church services are held, bands play and choirs sing.

This is a multi-layered phenomenon; a fact which makes it difficult to judge with a black and white judgment: “This is a good thing.” or “This is a bad thing.” I’m not against honoring courage and sacrifice, nor do I question the sincerity of those who participate in any given ceremony. If one can take a step back, however, and look at the whole of the season together and down throughout history, it can give one pause.

If we begin to understand what “worship” is (take at look at Genesis 22, where worship is mentioned for the first time in the Bible to get an idea of what worship is at its foundations and you’ll be surprised at all the preparation and ceremony involved), you can begin to see that worship is exactly what’s going on here. Unfortunately, as in much of our lives, we’re not aware when our actions and our very lives offer up worship to all sorts of deities other than to the real King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

It’s also important to realize that we offer up worship not just as individuals but collectively as well. Many, many of the activities of our daily lives reinforce the momentum of the collective whole and we’re completely unaware of it. In fact, if we acted “individually” as much as we think we do, we’d notice the effect of “swimming upstream” pretty quickly. Interesting that God calls us, as disciples of Jesus, to act collectively, but in a way that is “swimming upstream” with much of our current culture. It’s called living in the Kingdom of God…about which Jesus had much to say.

Back to this interesting season here in Europe. This year was particularly interesting as Ramadan, the 30 days of Muslim prayer and fasting culminated during this season of death, and the recent riots in Paris and elsewhere in France began during this season.

All of this lead several intercessory groups to take a stand together in a “swimming upstream” action that was called the “Strange Act”. You can read the Biblical justification of this action and also an analysis on Halloween in this Word document. The long and short of it was that many people around Europe placed a rock…a plain ordinary rock…at local war memorials. These were in contrast with the beautifully sculpted war memorials themselves. This spoke of The Rock of Ages and the rock uncut by human hands spoken of in Daniel 2 that would signal an empire that would vanquish all human empires and last forever.

It was this we celebrated the night of November 11th when we went up to Viel Armand/Hartmanswillerkopf, the scene of one of the most contested points in WWI…a very short drive from our house. We went in the evening expecting that we could be in peace and perform our act before God in obedience. We had thought that this national military cemetery would have hosted its Armistice Day ceremony during the day…oops!

Altar to the dead at Viel ArmandWe came at about 5pm when the sun had already sunk below the tops of the peaks in the Vosges mountains. We were greeted by a multitude of military personnel carriers and soldiers everywhere. The public was out in force as well. We parked (and left our prophetic sword in the car!!!) and went up to the main memorial location. The sight that greeted us can only be described as “an altar” with a ceremony just about to get underway. With the light of dusk and the torches and “flame pots”, giving out a flame and black smoke, it presented a very surreal picture (the photo doesn’t really do it justice).

Altar to the living God at Viel ArmandWe waited, watched and prayed. At the end of the ceremony, we were able to place our rocks and worship the God of the living, not the dead and proclaim life in Alsace and Europe. (Rachel, far right in the picture). Later that evening, near midnight, I participated with another intercessory group that went to the highest point in Alsace, the Grand Ballon, where there is, you guessed it, a war memorial!

War memorial at the Grand BallonWe climbed up by moonlight in a cloudless sky but with a ferocious wind! We placed our stones by the great monument and then worshiped and prayed.

Life on the Grand BallonGod is the God of the living…not the dead!