by Christine Sine
Tom and I just booked a retreat time at Anacortes for just after Christmas. As many of you know we do this three or four times a year in order to refresh ourselves and plan for the upcoming months. I love to plan this end of year retreat now, because otherwise the busyness of the season soon overwhelms my best intentions for this kind of an important break.
The spiritual practice of retreat is I believe one of the most powerful tools we can implement to help us rest, 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.
Most of us are daunted by the thought of 40 days on retreat but my husband and I make it into a more manageable occasion. We take a two or three day retreat three times a year. We usually go to a dog friendly B&B in Anacortes. It’s a beautiful place perched on the bluff looking out over Rosario Strait. The perfect place to relax and refocus and in the sunsets over the water are spectacular. Occasionally, we have the opportunity for more extended retreats, often combined with pilgrimages to holy sites. In 2005 we delighted in a very special retreat on the island of Iona during Holy Week.
I love these retreats. They refresh, transform and renew us. Anything is possible, from solidifying an already strong faith to experiencing a major spiritual breakthrough. Sometimes they are the birthing place for a new book project. Often the success of one personal retreat spills into the next, profoundly expanding my faith in all directions. These retreat are not highly structured or expensive. We don’t follow a set plan. They can be done anywhere you can find a quiet place to draw aside for a day or two, let go of the distractions of your busy life and focus on God.
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. However there are some guidelines that you may find helpful
- Choose a quiet place that offers comfort and minimal distractions but with opportunities to enjoy yourself between spiritual sessions. Tom and I love to browse antique shops and hike. Our Anacortes get away offers both possibilities that enhance our enjoyment and relax us for the next session.
- Schedule yourself loosely. 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 God’s work.
- 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 read through an unfamiliar book of the bible. Do this in a reflective mode. Lectio Divina is a perfect tool for this.
- Keep a journal. I am very keen on journal keeping. It is part of my weekly rhythm. After breakfast each Sunday Tom and I journal about the week asking: What am I grateful for? What was your biggest struggle? What bears the fingerprints of God? I use this material as foundations for my retreats. In fact my first session is usually looking back over my weekly journal and highlighting significant events and revelations from the last few months. I keep a separate journal just for these retreats. It enables me to summarize my experiences in such a way that I can quickly look back and see the leading of God over the years.
- Break up your retreat time into sessions. Pray, journal or contemplate for no more than an hour at a time. Then share with your companion, go for a walk and relax. Plan the day so that each session flows from the work of the previous one. We usually do two or three sessions a day depending on where we are at. On the first day we focus on looking in back and discerning what God would say to us from the last few months. The second day focuses on looking forward. We don’t just plan our schedules but also talk about our spiritual disciplines, time together, hospitality with friends and travel plans.
- Between sessions, enjoy doing activities like walking or hiking, that doesn’t require concentration. Doing something that uses the right side of the brain is good – woodworking or stitchery; painting pictures or doodling; listen to orchestral music or Taize worship. I always bring my knitting and my paint pens with me. I love to collect stones from the beach that I then use to write on as I receive revelation. The worst thing I can do is get distracted by my phone. Email, texting and Facebook can totally destroy the retreat atmosphere. I try to set aside a small window of time to attend to these. Even reading or watching TV will change the train of thought God is leading you through. .
Regular retreats revolutionized my life and our marriage. They bring rest and refreshment in the midst of a hectic world. I hope you will give it a go. If so you might like to use this simple prayer as a starting place.
Let us draw aside to a place of retreat,
Soak in the love of God,
And allow it to fill every fiber of our being.
Let us soak in the wonder of Christ,
And invite him to fill us with the joy of life.
Let us soak in the power of the Spirit,
And be equipped with hope to change the world.
(c) Christine Sine November 2022
For more resources on taking a personal retreat, check out this Godspacelight resource