Monday, February 12, 2007

My Dirty, Little Secret

I was at church tonight at the end of the 6pm Mass and people were filing out while I was getting ready to drop Analise down in the playroom so I could go to the RCIA meeting (I'm sponsoring for the 9th time in about 15 years, I'm some kind of glutton for punishment I think haha, really it's very fun this year though and really great because it's run almost completely by a PRIEST!!!!). I saw one of the very nice women from our newly formed M.O.M s group (Miracle Of Motherhood) and she very sweetly asked if I was signed up for the women's retreat coming up soon in our parish. I said no and paused while she prodded me a bit "why not?? come on, it's gonna be great" and I said the words before I had a chance to stop them from slipping out..."I don't believe in retreats." Oops. I didn't mean to reveal my dirty, little secret like that and I almost acted apologetic (but I didn't feel that way) and she rightly said something like, "Oh well, we're all different, that's why we're here!". I am assuming she meant "here" as in "participating in church activities and pursuing a deeper understanding of our faith" etc.
Anyway, the point of my confession here is to ask all you lovely ladies that read this boring old blog if you think I'm a horrible person. I do care. I am a little curious if other people feel the same way as me and think of retreats as stupid. Okay, that was a little unfair. It's late and I'm being bully so I'll try to clarify a little.
1. Ever since I was a teenager I have recognized that retreats and retreat-type exercises are kind of manipulative and not very "real life". I have always been suspicious of people who set up those activities and wondered what their intentions were. I'm sure it's because I am a very skeptical person but why have I always questioned these things? One I remember was when I was about 17 or so and we had to do a mandatory retreat for teaching religion classes or maybe it was before that for confirmation or some such thing and I remember going to some other church or retreat center and they had us go to quietly reflect on some subject, and I just sat there thinking about what ever it was, and then when we got back together it was like everyone forgot how to act in social situations, and started melting down, and crying, and freaking out. Sorry for the excessive amounts of commas but I get this way when I'm ranting. Oh, also I went to a t.e.c. retreat when I was a young teenager and I can't even tell you how uncomfortable that whole thing was.
2. I really do believe that retreats can be cultish. People start believing that in order to be a good Christian, you have to go on a retreat at least once a year and cry and break down and tell your life's story to a bunch of people who normally you wouldn't even talk to. It sets up a false kind of reality and breaks down the normal social barriers (duh, yeah, I realize that's the whole point but I still don't like it) and then everybody koombayas for the weekend or couple of days and then go back to their normal lives feeling high for a little while then they come down and think maybe their faith is lacking because they don't feeeeeeel close to Jesus anymore so they go to another retreat.
3. I don't like anything that calls itself a "movement". See, the very thing about "movements" is that they MOVE. They shift and flow with the winds of change and I never was so good with the whole "change" thing. I just, plain like Church (Mass, mainly) and when people mess with Church it kinda bothers me.
4. I think retreats are lame and predictable. Each one of the current kind starts out with great ideas of what they are going to accomplish. People standing up and "witnessing" to get attention (hey, who doesn't like to tell a story about themselves??) then it's all "secret society" stuff where you have to throw your watch away for the weekend and promise not to tell what happened at the retreat (whatever happens at retreat, stays at reatreat) which I know is so people feeeeeel like they can speak freely but I don't buy it. My skeptical nature (and my knowledge of my own mind) knows that people DO remember the crazy, dramatic details of other people's lives and it colors their judgement of those people. For instance, if I found out that one of the women in my retreat group had numerous affairs and other scandalous things, I would always think of those things when I saw her in church on Sunday and I don't need that knowledge thank you very much. I got enough distractions in church.

Okay, I know I sound all "judgemental" about this and I am going to get allll kinds of email that extols the virtues of going on retreat and how the church fathers all went on retreats and that's what made them soooo smart and insightful and Laura, why can't you just understand that people come to the faith in different ways like what about the contemplatives blahblahblah yeah, I know, I know. But still, I get shivers up my spine when someone mentions retreats and I can never fully communicate my feeeeelings about why I can't stand those lame things. Maybe it's because I don't go to enough retreats?

Oh, also...I understand that some kinds of "retreats" are necessary. For instance, in the book I'm reading about this priest in a prison camp who saw how people were losing their faith and needed "retreat" from their horrible lives in the gulag, organized sort of "miniretreat" for them by giving them things to reflect on and exercises in faith in between working back breaking hours and deplorable living conditions. Yeah, I'm really stingy where I only think one needs a retreat in those conditions vs our humdrum, everyday lives. It's all relative, right?

The arguments FOR these retreats always push me further AWAY from the idea. Lighting candles and "setting the mood" outside of Mass always reminded me a little too much of the earlier RCIA classes run by the social justice representatives of the church who just wanted everyone to build affordable housing in their backyards. Never mind learning about the catechism or any kind of Church doctrine, right?
See, it's kind of like when I didn't like what happened when a "charismatic" dude came to our church and put on a show...I mean "retreat" and Fr told me when I complained about the charismatic renewal in general that "well, Fr. Corapi is coming this fall and HE'S from a very charismatic order"... YEAH...I can see Fr. Corapi going in for speaking in freaky, nonsense language and standing over someone with his eyes closed and pushing them on the forehead until they fall down. Ya know, somehow I just don't think he'd do that. Maybe I'm wrong. It's possible. But not likely.
Okay now I'm just getting tired, and punchy, and kind of uncharitable, and crabby.
So now you know my dirty, little secrets. I hope you can still respect me in the morning.