What do you think of when you read that title?
All too often retreating has a negative connotation doesn’t it? One dictionary offers this definition: ‘The act or process of withdrawing, especially from something hazardous, formidable, or unpleasant’, and another ‘The process of going backward or receding from a position or condition gained.’
Yet retreating, going on a retreat has come to mean something much more positive. Rather than a verb, an act or process – retreat can be or become a place, a place affording peace, quiet, privacy, or security, a place offering the opportunity to be – rather than do.
I’ve been on two retreats this autumn. Both in the UK, both in beautiful locations – and somewhat unusually for me I’ve been a participant (rather than a leader or facilitator) on both of them. Both had a teaching element, both and on both I was really blessed because I had time set aside – given to me -to reflect.
One of the things I really need is time to reflect. It doesn’t just happen for me. I need to set aside -or create – space to do it. And that isn’t always easy in the manic times. Part of me says that times shouldn’t be manic that often and that I really ought to be able to do something to set in place a more reflective way of life, but to date I haven’t yet managed it. But this does mean that I appreciate those moments when I can reflect.
But reflect on what? That’s often the issue isn’t it? If reflection -deep meaningful reflection – isn’t part of our daily rhythm of discipleship- then it’s actually quiet hard to do it. That’s when a retreat can actually be quite helpful. Retreats -even silent ones – often have a theme, and that forces you to get down to the business!
What I appreciated most on these two retreats was that in both the time of reflection was guided. By that I mean there were helpful suggestions of how to reflect and what to reflect on.
The most recent of the two retreats was an Inspire one. Its theme was Longing for More (of God). Unusually for me I found myself at the back of the room during the teaching, with a oil pastel stick in my hand. That doesn’t happen often, and while I did listen to the teaching I found myself focusing in on one particular aspect and found myself putting parts of psalm 42 into my own words. (I lost the paper but for me the result wasn’t the main thing, it was the process of allowing myself to express my longing for more of God). In the afternoon I went for a walk and discovered God in the unexpected.
The earlier retreat was hosted by the mentoring network and was fabulous in a very different way. This retreat had been planned for months and month by month we got a short update by email. By the time we met I felt as if I knew the participants – though in truth I only knew two people – and so time wasn’t wasted by small talk – we got down to the business – God’s business -right from the start. Afterwards as I reflected on this, I realised that I had been able to be positively selfish and put me and my need for God to come first. That took the form of not helping with ‘stuff’ and using every minute of the reflection time for me – walking in the beautiful peak district – over rivers and by waterfalls.
Today I am so tempted to sign up for yet another retreat. I have that longing to withdraw from life, not because it’s unpleasant but because I need more of God. I found a fabulous one in Yorkshire, led by Ian Adams (author of Cave Refectory Road and Running over Rocks) at the Scargill Centre. The retreat explores “how we might shape spiritual practices rooted that will enable us to live well through the toughness and wonder of life, and to bring our goodness to the world around us” – and would be just perfect I think for where and how I am right now.
However the dates aren’t quite right for me and I recognise too that instead of always retreating to find space for God and me, I actually need to build in more stable ways of practicing the presence of God where I am and learn to be more intentional to set aside time to reflect. My Inspire band helps in that. More on that in another blog ….