Well into middle age as I am, I’m going on retreat this weekend. It’s my first one.
Why not? It’s stinking hot outside and gas prices started to go back up, so it is probably a good move. Besides, the last time I did some soul-searching at the Franciscan Renewal Center, it worked out.
Thirty years ago, I had a college degree and some graduate credits, but no career. I needed to figure out who I was and where I was going. This is not an unusual thing when you’re 23 years old, but the way it happened was different from most.
I got a job at this retreat and conference center doing mostly custodial work. I set up and took down hundreds of tables and thousands of chairs.
I was able to meet theologians and workshop leaders, spiritual counselors and therapists, and in so doing had the privilege of talking with them about the meaning of life.
There, at a retreat house that opened in 1951 in the desert and is surrounded today by Paradise Valley, I received an education that I never got in the classroom.
I learned that many people pay a very high price for wealth and privilege if they make wealth and privilege their primary occupation.
I learned that everyone finds himself in need at some point or another, and sometimes, one of the most important needs is for an ear to listen and a heart to understand and a soul to sympathize.
I learned that one of life’s greatest gifts is a brief time and a little place to be alone with God.
I left that job making decisions that led me to my career in journalism. But never while I worked there or in all the years since did I ever sign up for a retreat.
The usual reasons applied: Don’t need it (yeah, right). Don’t have the time (I apparently wasn’t remembering enough of what I learned years ago). What could I get out of it, anyway?
To answer this last question, I signed up for this weekend’s men’s retreat. I remember that when I worked there, women were better at getting together for this purpose.
Men, meanwhile, perhaps due to our natural hard-wiring, just shrug off our afflictions, hearing the voices of our fathers and coaches to “walk it off” and get back up to the plate.
There are times to just buck up and shake off a bad experience, of course. But now that I’ve lived a few more years I find that there is also a need for the time to, well, retreat, refocus and reconnoiter.
Some very great men have retreated from their lives for these reasons and others. Jesus. Moses. John the Baptist’s whole adult life was a retreat in the desert, eating locusts and wild honey. “Come apart into a desert place and rest a while,” Jesus said (Mark 6:31).
So this weekend, well into middle age as I am, I am not doing any of the things I usually do on weekends: Chores or errands or visiting or recreation.
What appealed to me about this particular retreat was its description’s lack of specificity, saying only that mostly it was a time away for men, single or married and no matter where they were in life.
Which means I’m going to meet some interesting guys. Old, young, happy, not-so.
I’m sure each has a story to tell, which has led me to ask myself what story I will tell. At this point, I’m not sure, but soon enough, I’ll be telling one. Or more.
And I’ll ask myself again, just as I did so many years ago amid this place’s lovely gardens and quiet spots, about the meaning of life, about how everyone finds himself in need of an ear to listen and a heart to understand and a soul to sympathize.
The cell phone will be off and I won’t be carrying it. The laptop will be left at home. It will be me as I was 30 years ago, except in a larger pant size.
One evening they’ll be serving steaks. Men and barbecue. If that’s not a recipe for finding out more about you, I don’t know of a better one.
And it tastes better than locusts.
Read Mark J. Scarp’s opinions here on Sundays. Watch his video commentaries at eastvalleytribune.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.