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The Good of Retreat

This weekend I’ll be on retreat with our Brazos Fellows, doing a bit of cooking and reflecting upon food and the faith we hold. And a week later, I’ll be on retreat with my brother priests of the diocese up in Dallas. The practice of spiritual retreat, it seems, goes back to Jesus himself. In the Gospel of Mark, upon the return of the disciples from a busy season of ministry, Jesus invites his disciples: “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31 RSV) We’re told that many were coming and going, and that the disciples didn’t even have time to eat. Later on in the Gospels, Jesus withdraws to the Garden of Gethsemane, a quiet place, below the din of the city, a place of beauty and solitude. He is preparing to die, and experiencing the anguish of it. We often try to suppress the anguish and pain we feel at life, and force ourselves to be sociable and busy. This is not good. We were meant to know the joy of communing with God, away from occupation and noise.

This reminds me of a recent article entitled “How Millenials Became the Burnout Generation,” which focuses on the burnout many young people are experiencing today. Constant work, thanks to mobile devices and e-mail, and the need to differentiate themselves in the workplace mean that there is little time for rest. “This is why the fundamental criticism of millennials — that we’re lazy and entitled — is so frustrating: We hustle so hard that we’ve figured out how to avoid wasting time eating meals.” We Christians have an alternative to that busyness. It includes taking time for Sabbath, eating meals with friends, and perhaps most radical: the practice of retreat. Notice, I didn’t say vacation. Vacations are important, but they’re something else entirely. Retreats focus on rest and prayer, on getting any from the total busyness that characterizes our lives. Vacations focus on recreation, on travel, on going to places that are interesting. Retreats tend to be held in lonely places, places where quiet is the order of the day.

If you haven’t been in the habit of making a spiritual retreat, I want to commend it to you. There are a number of great retreat centers around. Some people I know will simply get an AirBnB in another city and simply hole up, cooking simple meals, reading, praying, and considering the future. A couple years ago, our family decided that what we needed wasn’t a vacation. We needed a family retreat! And so, we go away to pray and rest. We come back each time restored and ready for what lies ahead.

You might say: Oh, I’m way too busy for that! I barely have two weeks of vacation! 

Is there not one weeknight where you can pull away from your busy life to pray and be quiet? You might be finding that you’re overwhelmed, struggling to do even the most basic tasks. It’s time you took the advice of Jesus: come away and rest. It doesn’t have to be three or four days. If a weeknight is all you can spare, then so be it. 

A couple hints for an effective retreat:

  • Turn off your phone.

  • Bring a hammock or find a place with a comfortable chair.

  • Bring a variety of books: spiritual reading, novels, practical and/or work-related books, as well as a Bible.

  • Bring more comforts than you think you’ll need: pillows from home, your own cookware, comfortable clothes.

  • Retreats are inherently eccentric.

  • Plan to pray the Daily Office.

  • Make a confession and/or meet with a spiritual director beforehand.

  • Bring good walking shoes. Walks are a necessary part of a retreat.

As we near the season of Lent, an Epiphanytide retreat can be a wonderful way to make plans for a holy Lent and renewed spiritual disciplines. If I can be of any help, don’t hesitate to let me know.

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