24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” -Luke 1:24-25
I'm liking the way Okoro is gently pulling our attention towards this gift of time. I've always been skeptical of the maxim Time heals all wounds (dare I say cynical?). But I suppose like all sayings, it began with a kernal of truth in it. I'm not sure if time heals all wounds, but it certainly can create the space for new movement.
I notice that Elizabeth doesn't credit God with disgrace, but rather herself. Whether the guilt she bore in her barrenness was hers, her husband's, her community's, or a strange mixture of all three, God wasn't blamed. Did she know deep down that, even in her emptiness, it wasn't disgrace God had bestowed upon her? I wonder…
Zechariah is now totally mute. He cannot share his experience with Elizabeth; she gets to discover the surprise of John's conception for herself. Zechariah's message of salvation comes externally; Elizabeth's comes internally — from within herself. The empty womb is finally fulfilling its original purpose.
And while Zechariah's solitude is internal (he can't speak), Elizabeth's is external. She physically leaves the community for five months and… does what? Pray? Sit in shock? Touch her swelling belly? Contemplate? Meditate? Wish for wise, experienced women to be around her to give her prenancy advice?
"Pondering Scripture we do not see any examples of God rushing through things. Our sense of timliness differs from God's. God's words, like a fertilized seed, need time to embed themselves in us, to take root, to be nourished in us, to grow, and then bear fruit at God's appropriate timing." (Okoro, p. 54).
Perhaps Elizabeth's seclusion was also partly for her protection. Imagine, Henri: this old, barren couple are suddenly expecting and neither one was able to explain anything to their neighbors! The community would have been abuzz with gossip and wonder. Other than the (quite) obvious reason for why Elizabeth is pregnant, perhaps people would have overwhelmed too with the news. Perhaps they wouldn't have left Elizabeth alone? Perhaps peace and quiet with God is what Elizabeth needed, and that is what she received.
Doubt, fear and grief are alive in us, Henri. They don't die easily. We can't accept a new thing easily, especially when multitudes of tears have been shed, and silence has been the answer. I'm sure part of Elizabeth immediately praised God for the work being knit within her, but I'm sure many damaged parts of her also found herself pretty raw and stinging. Like any woman discovering herself to be surprisingly pregnant, she would need time to receive the reality… accept it… prepare for the inevitable changes to her life and body.
So what about today, Henri? Okoro's right in that our modern Christian approaches to retreat doesn't really cut it. We over-schedules ourselves with multitides of options about leadership ABOUT retreat, servanthood ABOUT retreat, prayer ABOUT retreat, worship forms ABOUT retreat, or talking heads talking ABOUT retreat.
Rarely do we accept God's gift of retreat… and actually retreat.
Our bodies wear down, our spirits dry up, and our communities boil with unrest. We cannot sit still, unplug, or relax. We cannot receive, accept or prepare. We dance around retreat because it's such a novel notion; it's something on our bucket lists to do (one day); but many of us, deep down, sense it's not exactly a worthy approach to facing our fears, griefs, doubts, and evils.
The world's falling apart and God wants me to GO AWAY????
Don't I have to be present in the moment to actually face what's happening within me, and around me?
Yes. And yes.
And retreat accomplishes those things through distance. Presence is created in distance.
What a concept. Truly counter-intuitive.
Yet unless space is created and time given to heal, accept and receive, can we truly expect our lives to be transformed?
Until tomorrow, Henri,