I have the privilege of helping to staff H2O’s Smoky Mountain Retreat this week. Eighteen of us from H2O Kent have travelled together. Now we’re near the national park on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. We get to spend this whole week practicing Solitude, Silence, and other Spiritual Disciplines throughout the day. And we still get lots of time for community over meals, in the evenings, and on free days.
In our group sessions we’re studying the Armor of God, as described in Ephesians chapter 6. With each piece of our Spiritual Armor, we’re providing instruction and encouragement to learn a new Spiritual Discipline. For instance: contemplating and clothing ourselves with the Belt of Truth and the Breastplate of Righteousness through Solitude and Stillness… Or learning to wield the Sword of the Spirit with balance and skill, through a handful of methods for studying the Bible… It feels like the purest form of ministry. I feel honored to be able to do this as my job.
Believe it or not, I’m spending a majority of my Solitude time in an old cemetery tucked just inside the northern boundary of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. A pleasant hike of about three-quarters of a mile brings me to this little clearing in the forest. The clearing provides sun for when it’s cold, tree cover for when it’s hot, and minimal disruptions from insects. So I’ve made it my habit to hang out here — literally, hanging in a hammock. Or I sit in my hiking chair. Hours at a time in Stillness and Silence with God… and the (deceased) Frasure Family.
Encounters with the Spirit
Some people might think that would be creepy to spend hours at a time in an old cemetery. But I seriously think it’s lovely. It helps to just to have a simple destination, a little clearing in the relentless rhododendron canopy of the forest. And the only ghost I encountered was the Holy Ghost!
God’s already done quite a bit of work in my heart in this cemetery. He’s convicted me that I regularly drift into self-righteousness. I become judgmental and struggle to be compassionate. Consequently, I fail to genuinely love others unconditionally. In short, I fall into sin. Fortunately, through reading 1 John 2:1-6, I’ve been reassured that I have an Advocate, a Defender, a Helper, an Intercessor, a Comforter, a Counselor. Jesus covers me and defends me with His righteousness, like body armor (to pull in some of the imagery from our study of Ephesians 6). He helps to reconcile the register at the end of the day, making up for my shortfalls with his righteousness. And he comforts me in my weakness. What a gift!
I’m full of gratitude for what God has already done this week. Still, previous experience suggests that this Smoky Mountain Retreat is still just getting started.