The Practice of Retreat: What Is It and How Might I Start?

I’ve recently had a few questions on what the practice of Retreats, Silence, and Solitude are, so it seemed a good idea to write a series of blog posts to answer some of those questions. Today’s blog post is specific to the practice of Retreat.

What does it mean to retreat?

To retreat is a strategic withdrawal from the normal rhythms of your life for a specific purpose.

There are various types of retreats. For example, there are Prayer Retreats, Health & Wellness Retreats, Spiritually Directed Retreats, Life Planning Retreats, Reflective Retreats, Silence & Solitude Retreats, and the list could go on. But at its center, a retreat is the act of withdrawing for a specific purpose or purposes.

For me, when I think of retreating, I think of strategic withdrawal to connect with God. As I’ve grown in this practice, the how has taken various pathways – from silence & solitude to silent directed to rest & renewal, etc.

Where did the idea of Spiritual Retreats come from?

As one dictionary stated, “The retreat movement has a long history in the Roman Catholic Church, going back to St. Ignatius in the sixteenth century, and in the Church of England, going back to its first retreats, both held in 1856—one in February at Chislehurst led by the Society of the Holy Cross and one led in July by E. B. Pusey (1800–1882) at Oxford. Since World War 2, however, retreats have flourished among many Protestant groups as one of many important renewal movements growing out of that period.” 1.

But even before the movement in the Roman Catholic Church, Jesus modelled the practice of personal getaways. In amidst Jesus’ “high people”  or “high ministry” life, he took time off to go and get alone with his Father, and he did so, I think, with great frequency. Why? So he could hear from and stay connected to the source of wisdom and love.

Here are a couple of passages for you to look up and reflect on. Matthew 4:1-11. As you reflect on this particular passage, think about how long Jesus was away, what he experienced, and how he came back. Mark 1:35-38 is another great passage to consider. As you are engaged in reading the passage, glance back to what was recorded as happening before Jesus got up early and what came after. Consider for yourself why Jesus made some of the choices he made and how he was ready to respond when found and why that might have been.

Why might retreat matter for us today?

Well, let’s start with the fact that Jesus was first away in the wilderness for 40 days before he came back to town in the power of the Spirit. Let’s also consider that change in our world is happening at an unprecedented rate and is unlikely to slow down. What about technology? Though it certainly has positive aspects, it has also led to addictive behaviours and has been used in harmful ways. Oh gosh, and let’s consider the noise around us, it.is.everywhere.

So let’s ask ourselves these questions: When was the last time I was still enough to be in touch with the deepest longings of my soul? When was the last time I was alone and undistracted with God? Am I avoiding God or myself? Am I out of sorts and not knowing why? Do I lack wisdom and need to hear from God? What is the pace of my life and when was the last time I slowed down? What matters to God? To me? Are the things that matter in alignment? How is God inviting me to show up in the world?

How might I start to practice retreat?

If you’ve never been in the habit of retreating, I suggest you start small. By small I mean 1/2 a day or a full day. Do some pre-thinking around where you’d like to go and what you’d like to do to connect with deeply with yourself and God. Make sure that where you’re going is someplace new for you and not part of your daily routine. Take out your calendar and block the time off.  And whatever you do, don’t let the enemy thwart your plans of connecting with God! If you’re in Saskatoon, I highly recommend taking some time at Queen’s House, it’s my local go to place. 

You may also want to do some reading around the subject. I highly recommend Ruth Haley Barton’s book Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God, you can find it here on amazon. There are other books to be sure, but because I just used Ruth’s most recent book on my retreat and found it to be of tremendous value, I’m suggesting it to you.

Sign up for a retreat, but be careful in the kind you choose. Retreating for me is about connecting with God and myself, it’s not necessarily about more teaching (unless it’s on the practices of spiritual disciplines or the spiritual life), and it’s certainly also not about filling my time visiting with people, though I love people. It’s a sacred and holy time for me. My friend Marie-Louise and I are prayerfully considering offering a retreat in February 2020, and another friend and I are also in prayer about a retreat to introduce evangelicals to the practice, so sign up for my blog or follow me on Facebook or Instagram to stay up to date with news around that.

Closing Thoughts

There isn’t a person alive who will care as much about your spiritual journey as you need to.  There isn’t a living person that needs to be as attentive to your growing relationship with God as you do. I have, especially in the last decade, had some of the most incredible mentors possible, but even they are not responsible for the choices I make; I am. Be attentive to your soul. Discipline yourself to follow Christ in ways that matter and are transformative. Discover for yourself the ancient pathways and try them out, I can guarantee you that it will be worth it. You’re worth it. Your relationship with God is worth it.

I believe for every one of us there is a standing invitation from God to come apart for a while, how will you respond?

Pastor Carmen.

p.s If you have more questions around the practice of retreat, please use the comment section below, and I will endeavour to answer them in the coming weeks. Or, if you have a great story about why retreat matters to you, I’d also love to hear that!

 

 

  1. Daniel G. Reid et al., Dictionary of Christianity in America (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990)

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