The Renewal of Retreat
Fountain and cactus garden at Spirit of the Desert Retreat Center, Carefree, Arizona, USA
Do you give yourself space periodically to step back and consider what your priorities are in life? Do you allow yourself time to simply rest in God and to discern how He might be speaking to you? One way we can carve out time and space for such activities is by participating in a retreat.
We see evidence of Jesus encouraging and engaging in retreats. Early in the morning before sunrise, he would retreat to a deserted place to pray (Mark 1:35). In Mark 6:30-32, he invites the disciples to “come by yourselves to a secluded place and rest for a while.” In response, they took a boat to a deserted place after spending a busy time teaching and ministering to large numbers of people. Luke 4 recounts the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert after his baptism, facing and overcoming the temptations of the devil.
In her book Invitation to Retreat: the Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God, Ruth Haley Barton characterizes a spiritual retreat as “an extended time apart for the purpose of being with God and giving God our full and undivided attention.” (1) A contemplative type of a retreat helps focus on understanding and experiencing God and how our lives fit into that understanding. (2) Regardless of length (ranging from a few hours to as long as several weeks), such retreats share the quality of silence – a stillness that embodies Psalm 46:10 (Be still and know that I am God).
Retreats are offered and can be planned in different formats such as a non-directed, personal retreat, a directed personal retreat (usually under the guidance of a spiritual director available at the retreat center), or a group retreat with brief presentations followed by a quiet time for reflection. Time is allotted for prayer, rest, worship, and recreation. Numerous retreat centers are located in areas close to nature and natural beauty, i.e., the mountains, the desert, near lakes, and in the middle of forests.
The leadership in your faith community might be able to direct you to retreat centers near you. The local Catholic diocese in your area may also have information about their retreat centers nearby. The website “Catholic Retreats” (www.catholicretreats.net) provides a searchable directory of retreat centers across the U.S. and Canada that are affiliated with this Christian faith tradition. Although under the auspices of the Catholic church, often these facilities can be rented by non-Catholic individuals and groups. The website www.retreatfinder.com contains information on a wide range of retreats and retreat centers, including those that are Christian and of other faith traditions.
As you begin to plan and participate in contemplative and silent retreats, it may be easier to start with a short one, i.e., one-half to a full day. At a minimum, you would likely benefit in bringing a Bible and a journal to record your thoughts, feelings, and insights. For those who would like more structured experiences, Leadership Transformations offer downloadable booklets at a modest cost for one-half day and full-day retreats on various topics for individuals and groups. You can learn more about these retreat topics and how to order the booklets at the website https://lti.christianbook.com/.
Several books are also available that provide a series of retreat guides by chapter. Some examples include:
· Reuben P. Job, A Guide to Retreat for All God’s Shepherds
· Chris Pritchett & Marjorie J. Thompson, On Retreat with Henri Nouwen: Engaging Life’s Big Questions
· Jane Rubietta, Quiet Places: A Woman’s Guide to Personal Retreat
Taking in the experience of a retreat can refresh our souls and draw us closer to God. Such experiences are gifts to us in our spiritual journey. May you too sense God’s invitation “to come away and rest.”
1. Ruth Haley Barton, Invitation to Retreat: the Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2018), 4.
2. Jane E. Vennard, Be Still: Designing and Leading Contemplative Retreats (Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), 11.