Tom and I are are currently on Iona where we have the privilege of a very special retreat. What I realize is that I rarely spell out what a retreat is all about or how to conduct one. I thought this was a good time to rectify that and reshare this post from a few years ago.
The spiritual practice of retreat is I believe one of the most powerful tools we can implement to increase our faith and draw us closer to God, to each other and to our responsibility for God’s world. The Bible is full of examples of those who periodically removed themselves from the world to draw closer to God. Jesus himself went into the desert for 40 days immediately after being baptized.
Never underestimate the potential of this discipline for transformation and renewal. Anything is possible, from solidifying an already strong faith to experiencing a major spiritual breakthrough. Anyone who truly seeks to be closer to God will not be disappointed. The success of one personal retreat will spill into the next, inexorably expanding one’s faith in all directions.
The kind of retreats I am talking about here are not highly structured or expensive. They can be done anywhere that you can find a quiet place to draw aside for a day, let go of the distractions of your busy life and focus on God. Tom and I usually go to an inexpensive dog friendly motel in Anacortes. Occasionally, like this, we have the opportunity for more extended retreats, pilgrimages to holy sites. Our last trip to Iona was for a very special week in 2005during Holy week.
So what should a retreat look like? To be honest, this is a hard question for me to answer. What looks good to me may not appeal to you. But there are some guidelines that you may find helpful
- Choose a quiet place that offers comfort and the minimum of distractions but with opportunities to enjoy yourself between your spiritual sessions. Tom and I love to browse antique shops and also to walk. Our Anacortes get away offers both possibilities that enhance our enjoyment and relax us for the next session.
- Schedule yourself loosely. This good advice from spiritual director, author and retreat leader Jan Johnson is a wonderful reminder that retreats are for renewal and refreshment. If we bring the same busy schedule we are addicted to at home into our experience we will get very little out of it. Retreats are like Sabbath meant to renew our connection to God, revitalize our relationships to each other and restore our passion for the work God has called us to do.
- Spend time in prayer and scripture reading. This can take many forms. You may like to start with a familiar psalm or gospel portion. Or you may like to read through a book of the bible you have never read before. Do this in a reflective mode – you may like to use the process of Lectio Divina to help you.
- Keep a journal. As you know I am very keen on journal keeping and though I am not good at doing this on a daily basis it is part of my weekly rhythm. Each Sunday Tom and I go out for breakfast and journal about our week. I ask myself the questions – What am I grateful for? What was your biggest struggle? What bears the fingerprints of God? I then use this material as foundations for my retreat process.
- Break up your retreat time into “sittings” (or sessions). Normally these should not be for more than an hour; stop while you’re still enjoying it. Consider these sessions “prayer periods”—times of more formal interaction with God. More good advice from Jan Johnson. You might like to develop a structure for each session or plan the day so that each session flows from the work of the previous one. I will talk more about the structure Tom and I use tomorrow.
- Between sessions, enjoy doing something that doesn’t require concentration such as taking a walk or hike. Jan Johnson suggests doing something that uses the right side of the brain – woodworking or stitchery; painting pictures or doodling; listen to orchestral music or Taize worship. Do not do anything that distracts you like checking email or surfing the internet. Even reading a novel or watching a video will change the train of thought God has had you on.
So my question for today: Will you plan a retreat day before the end of the year to renew your priorities and refocus your faith?