Vol 2, Num 16 :: 2003.08.01 — 2003.08.14
Last summer I went on a retreat for two days. I packed a few things to eat and wear into the RV and drove 100 yards down the lane to an out-of-the-way corner near the tractor shed. I parked the RV, unfurled the awning, ran the extension cord into the shed, and settled in for some time away. My kids were all home for the summer. The garden was weedy. I had many preparations to make for an event we were hosting. My husband needed my help. Going elsewhere seemed like too much to manage, but I needed a retreat. So, I made one in a corner.
I was able to take this retreat because chose to retreat over simply "slogging through." I anticipated the time with God, asking the Holy Spirit what I needed for the time. I prepared my space and my family for my use of the space ("No, you may not talk to me or squirt me with your squirt gun!"). The retreat was not an escape from the business of life. It was the necessary catalyst for continuing well.
We need retreats whenever we feel an urge to "do something else" as a way of managing our confusion or disguising our drift through life. We need retreats when we find ourselves going through the motions and making things happen without being aware of our efforts. We need retreats when we feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit to listen. We need retreats when we feel a whirlwind of stuff blowing inside and the urge to either let it out a door or capture it in a net and sit on it. We need retreats to pay attention to ourselves, to what God is trying to do in us, and to the God who is all around us and in us at all times but whom we miss and cry, "Where are you, God, in all of this?" We even need retreats when everything is o.k.
Retreats are special times set aside for paying particular attention to the presence of God in one's life. They are often most needed when there is little time for them. The benefits of "time away" when the pressures of life mount are incalculable. Someone once said, "I'm so busy, I cannot afford not to pray for two hours each day." Likewise, retreats provide oases in our schedule to re-focus priorities and say "yes" to what is really needed rather than be run ragged by all that could be done. Giving oneself permission to sit and listen is not a luxury but part of the rhythm of a healthy life.
Not all retreats happen in an RV. Many are taken at retreat centers around the world, some new and some ancient, where people who are seeking go to find God. Retreat houses do not spend many resources on advertising, so finding one near you can be a challenge. However, there are some directories like Sanctuaries: The Complete United States, (Jack and Marcia Kelly, Crown Publishers, Inc.: New York, 1996) and membership organizations like Retreats International. Most centers rely almost wholly on word-of-mouth so one of the best ways to find a good center is to ask someone you know who has been on retreat where they have gone. Your local church may know of retreat houses. Most religious orders either run retreat facilities or use them for their members and are sources of information on places to schedule retreat. (You can always try your own guest room, but post a "Do No Disturb" sign.)
Retreats can be either private times of quiet and reflection or guided by an experienced director. A guided retreat combines the listening ear of the Spiritual Director with the special time set aside for retreat. Guidance may include meditation on a particular passage of scripture and reflection questions to help identify the Spirit's presence at work in the individual or in the world.
Spiritual Direction or companionship is an agreement between persons to listen together to the voice of the Holy Spirit, discerning the leading of God for the journey. Direction is a form of accountability in a safe, prayerful environment. A spiritual director is someone who pays special attention to your deepening spiritual life and encourages your pursuit of God through examining the holiness and love that flow from your life of prayer.
My retreat last summer was one of many different kinds of retreat experiences I have had. My first retreat was a very scary twenty-four hours waiting for God to descend. I emerged from the time changed forever with a deep impression of the glory of God stamped on my being. Other retreats have been less remarkable but no less important for my growth and deepening awareness of God. Each one has been significant, even in the RV right where I live, with the kids unable to resist peeking around the corner to see if I was lonely. (I wasn't. But it was lovely to be cared for by God in that way on retreat!)
With intention, preparation, attentiveness, and planning, your time away can be a significant factor in pursuing your own spiritual journey.
Naomi and her husband, David, co-direct a small retreat center in southwest Michigan, The Hermitage. The Hermitage serves individuals and small groups as they seek to deepen their relationship with God. Guided retreats are available on request. Members of the resident community also offer spiritual direction. If you would like to schedule a retreat or a spiritual direction session at The Hermitage, call (269-244-8696) or e-mail (email@example.com) to reserve space and time.