Yesterday I posted some thoughts on why we go on spiritual retreats and some guidelines on how to conduct your own personal retreat in this article Spiritual Retreats: Powerful Tools to Increase Our Faith. Today I thought I wanted to share the details of how Tom and I actually conduct our retreat. I hope that it is helpful for you.
I usually start our first retreat session with a centering exercise like a breathing prayer to focus my mind. Tom starts with reading the scriptures of the day and writing out the psalm of the day in his journal . It is amazing how often this speaks to where he is at and what God is nudging in his life. The second step which both of us do is to read over what we committed to on the previous retreat and then read back through our weekly journals for the last 3 months. I use coloured markers to highlight what quotes, ideas and comments stand out for me from my three months of journaling, often rewriting these book quotes and prayers I have composed so that they become part of that continuing journey. I find this is a wonderful way to explore the threads of the journey God is weaving in my life.
At the end of this session we share our thoughts and insights with each other. Sometimes we ask each other questions or give advice. On our last retreat, reading back over my notes, I read again about the Trappist Monks who are successful “because they worked from a contemplative centre fully present to God rather than to the business they are doing.” When I mentioned that to Tom he asked: “What does working from a contemplative centre mean to you? What are the concrete outcomes you want to accomplish as a result of this approach?” His question became the pivotal point of my retreat time, helping me to evaluate the effectiveness of my contemplative practices and their role in stirring my imagination and guiding my path. His question made me realize how important it is to listen not just to what we sense God says to us directly or through scripture, but also through the questions of those around us. Questions like this don’t tell us what to do or to think, they open our minds and our hearts to the answers that God has already placed within us.
The second session focuses on honestly evaluating how well we have adhered to God’s path during this period. After praying about this and often repenting for how little I have applied what I learnt, I like to spend time in contemplation. I use a modified Lectio divina, either reading scriptures that have stood out for me in the last few weeks or a book that I felt God had prompted me to bring on this retreat. Sometimes I read through short passages, on other occasions I skim quickly through the book or books, incorporating quotes that speak to me into my retreat journal. I often highlight or underline these and then spend time reflecting on them.
The last session is for setting goals for the next few month. First I work on my personal life outlining disciplines for physical exercise, scripture reading and prayer, other spiritual practices I need to be more rigorous about. I also set goals for balancing my schedule – making sure that I leave plenty of time in my day and week for fun and relaxation, for the garden and time with friends.
My second area of goal setting is for my relationships, starting with our marriage, then friendships, hospitality and mentoring relationships. I have loved the way that this area of goal setting has drawn me slowly into mentoring relationships as well as an intentional approach to some of our hospitality, using it to build friendships and collaboration for our ministry.
The third area I set goals for is my relationship to the world around me. For years I struggled with my lack of practical involvement in ministry out into our neighbourhood and so was delighted when I was asked recently to be part of the steering committee for an interfaith group sponsored by Seattle Tilth that is encouraging churches and communities of faith to start community gardens. This area of goal setting often reminds me of my commitment to “bring glimpses of God’s shalom into peoples’ lives” and though I know this is not a time for me to work overseas, it has led me to intentionally develop mentoring relationships with leaders of small charitable organizations whose work and passion I can encourage and help grow.