This past week, I had the opportunity to participate in a day-long retreat with a discipleship center we have on campus called The Pierce Center for Disciple Building. These day-long retreats have very much become part of the fabric of my time at seminary (I have gone on five), giving me just enough pause to catch up to where my heart is and how God is working within it.
This is a spiritual discipline that first captured my attention two years ago exactly, in March 2016, right before I graduated from college. I traveled with a small group of graduating seniors and a professor, lodging for three days and two nights at a Cistercian monastery in Ava, Missouri. Ever since that experience, I’ve known that silent retreats must be part of my spiritual life.
So, it’s been a joy to retreat at the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur Abbey in Ipswich, Massachusetts. I love that the founder of the order, St. Julie Billiart, declared: “How good is the good God!” Truly, that Abbey is a perfect landscape to reflect on the goodness of the good God.
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Adele Calhoun, in her Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, describes Retreat as the following:
“Desire: to pull back from daily life and spend extended time with God
Definition: Retreats are specific and regular times apart for quietly listening to God and delighting in his company. Retreats remove us from the daily battle into times of refreshing, retooling, renewing, and unwinding.
- having a short time as well as extended times away with God
- detaching from productivity and doing in order to be in the presence of God and attend to his voice alone
- having longer retreats of two to forty days
- spending time in a hermitage
- spending one day a moment at a retreat site for time with God
- having seasonal retreats for rest and renewal
- withdrawing from life in order to see where your soul is in danger, to seek God’s help in reengaging in the battle”
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So, here’s what a silent retreat looked like for me on Wednesday:
- 9:00 – 9:30am –> Introduction with the rest of the retreat participants
- 9:30 – 10:45am –> Silent time (in my room)
- 10:45 – 11:15am –> Private spiritual direction session with retreat leader
- 11:30am – Noon –> Small group of sharing what’s been going on within us
- Noon – 1:00pm –> Lunch (eaten in silence)
- 1:00 – 1:20pm –> Walk through the Stations of the Cross on Abbey grounds
- 1:20 – 2:00pm –> Napping in a comfy chair
- 2:00 – 3:30pm –> Reading Henri Nouwen’s book Discernment and prayer journaling
- 3:30 – 4:00pm –> Closing session
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Even though this retreat lasted seven hours, it felt so much shorter. Once my body adjusted to the rhythm of being silent, I began to sink into it like a cozy bed filled with huggable pillows (what a change from my experience with Silence a few weeks ago!). When I remembered that my truest self finds a home first in being seen and known by God, I knew that a “wasted day” was one of the greatest spent times I could give to Him.
Especially since this week is ‘Holy Week’ in the Church calendar, I especially found my prayer walk around the Stations of the Cross to be a sweet time of reflection, meditating on the sufferings of Jesus that he willingly underwent so that I might find eternal life in his death and resurrection. Usually, it’s easy for me to find identification with Christ in his resurrection – in celebration – but while participating in the Stations of the Cross, I entered into meditation on the sufferings of Christ, something that helped me to deeper enter into fellowship with him.
Also, I loved being able to nap in God’s presence, enjoying rest of body during my rest of soul. When I was dozing off, I remembered that God loves me for who I am in Him, not for all I accomplish or produce. But as I know His love more and more, I know that whatever I do in His name will come from a rich knowing of who I am first in Him.
As the day came to a close, I felt tangibly refreshed and uplifted. I knew once again deep in my heart that God is waiting to meet with me; all I need to do is create that space.
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If you’re interested in taking a silent prayer retreat, here’s a handy website that can help you find the closest retreat centers to you: https://www.retreatfinder.com/Search.aspx
. Additionally, if you’re unable to go to a retreat center, you could very easily spend a day in nature, admiring God’s creation. I’d recommend not taking the retreat in your own home, especially because it’s very easy to get distracted when you see around you chores that “could” be done or tasks you “ought” to be accomplishing.
This spiritual discipline is one I truly wish to continue as I graduate from seminary and enter into my next vocation as chaplain. I encourage you, also, to carve out some space for Retreat in your own life, allowing you to refocus on the God who calls you His Beloved child.