It had been a difficult couple of years. My mom died, and I was asked to leave a ministry position in spiritual formation I loved over a policy issue. Then, a friend of mine surprised me by raising the money for me to attend a conference on contemplative activism with her in Nebraska. I was looking forward to seeing her, but then, at the last minute she was unable to attend. So my expectations were low, and I was even dreading the weekend a bit.
The first night of the conference, after the opening session, I walked around the small lake at the St. Benedict Center. It was dark, and foot lights that lined the path illuminated little frogs that I gingerly tried to step over. As I walked around the lake I wondered, “What in the heck am I doing at a monastery in Nebraska?”
I’m a writer and have written many young adult and middle grade books, but at that time I was between books, and an idea landed on me at that moment, fully formed. What if a young woman, a burned-out missionary, found herself at a retreat at a monastery in Nebraska like this one? She would be among other burned-out activists like ones I’d met as a spiritual formation teacher over the years, and she would learn about how activism needs the foundation of contemplative prayer practices to be sustained. The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening was born over the weekend.
I had been teaching spiritual formation for the previous eight years, and I have attended my share of camps and conferences over the last thirty-five years. The book is about those experiences, all condensed into an imagined weeklong retreat. It’s what HarperLegend calls “spiritually transformative fiction”; and like The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, it is “teaching fiction.”
I’ve done a lot of listening to millennials, and I even led a small group for “disgruntled Christians” for several years. These were young adults who had been raised in the church and had a lot of reasons why church wasn’t working for them anymore. But they were all still interested in keeping their faith. This book explores many of the reasons they have shared with me over time about what turns them off about evangelicalism. Thankfully, for some, contemplative prayer practices have been a bridge back to faith.
It is my prayer that burned-out activists and disgruntled millennials will find hope and help in The Retreat. Perhaps for those who have left the church, it will provide a bridge back to faith. And for those working so hard for justice in America and overseas, perhaps it will give them some tools to undergird their work with sustainable prayer practices.
I really don’t know why it took me this long to write a book like The Retreat. It is my belief that people should be spiritually formed, and I have invested my life and energy for the last thirty-five years in that arena. But maybe I wasn’t ready for this book until now. Maybe we have to go through our own difficult times in order to give birth to these ideas. I’m grateful beyond words that God gives us beauty for our ashes, the oil of joy for our mourning, and garments of praise for our spirit of heaviness.