There’s a scene in chapter 6 of Mark’s gospel which has special appeal to anyone who has ever been caught up in an over-busy, fast paced life. It’s the moment when Jesus tells his harried apostles to step off the treadmill and “come apart” for a rest. Here Jesus is taking to Himself what might well be his favorite persona in the gospels, the Shepherd, the concerned, solicitous protector of the flock. And even though that time apart is cut short, the care behind it carries through to us today.
How necessary that stepping away can be, certainly for mental health and breaking taxing routines — but also for nurturing our life of faith.
This coming apart to let things settle takes many forms. Certainly, it’s what worshippers do on a Sunday morning when they step into a Church. Its atmosphere pulls attention outward to the encircling symbols of the Holy, but also draws a person inward to what’s happening inside, down at that level where God’s Spirit is moving, prodding, comforting and loving us.
Entering this space provides opportunity to sense the care of that Good Shepherd, who as the psalm portrays leads us into those green pastures next to those restful waters, who refreshes our hearts and walks with us through those dark valleys. There are those who make extra time to come in early to just sit in the quiet and let the surroundings speak.
The places of coming away aren’t limited to Churches. You know people who go apart on retreats, brief ones of just a few hours stolen from a busy month, or longer ones for those who can afford the luxury of extended prayer time at a retreat house. But the instinct is the same – how to quiet down and spend time listening for that still, small voice within who is God’s own Spirit at our depths, the Good Shepherd leading and gathering and moving us.
On many scores, the most important form this “come apart” message takes is the one that’s done daily. So those quick pauses in the middle of a packed day just to listen for God and tune into the Spirit’s presence. Equally as valuable, those minutes just after waking up when turning our minds to places where God might be showing up in the hours ahead. Or maybe still more useful, those few minutes just before dropping off to sleep when we look back on the day for ways God might have acted or called, or in some way touched the world around us.
In the gospel incident, the stepping away the apostles did didn’t last very long. In no time the needs of the crowd called them back, and their caring activity was its own kind of prayer. But what that pause did do, at least briefly, was let them sense the closeness and care of that Good Shepherd — The Lord Jesus leading, guiding, refreshing, walking with them through the darkness and out onto those green pastures.
Vincent repeatedly cautions against overactivity as a “ruse of the devil by which he deceives good people.” He counsels St. Louise that “the Spirit of God urges one gently to do that good that can be done reasonably.” (Vol 1, p.92)
Making the time for these interludes, these little islands of ‘coming apart,’ helps let us hear the voice of that Shepherd amid all the busyness of modern life.