An integral part of the spiritual life is time set aside to be alone with God. Our connection with God, as with any other relationship, needs special time together for it to grow and mature. On a retreat we have an opportunity to rest and to wander through time, looking at our ways of relating and being with God and listening to Him. Here we can explore our feelings and share them with God and He can share His with us. These feelings tell us the true state of our relationship and also what may be needed as we seek to draw closer to our Lord.
Listening to God involves training our hearts to hear God’s loving words particularly with our heart and not only with our mind. It also means discerning God’s still small voice among the many voices in our heart that clamour for our attention.
Little of this happens when we normally read scripture, because our mind’s interest in scripture is mainly around confirming old beliefs or the novelty of new ideas. In contrast, our heart, whose concern is relationship, reads scripture like a love letter, going over the significant parts repeatedly as it savours their meaning for the relationship. So we might meditate on a passage of scripture and drink it in quite differently from studying a piece for doctrinal reasons.
When we hear new truth and know it to be so in our hearts, our beliefs adjust and we are set free by them as Jesus said would happen. “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32 “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:1 It is with the heart that we meditate on God’s word and in our heart that we are changed by it. Jesus says that it is in our heart that sin lodges and there that we need to plant his word to guide the way we live. Our mind has far less influence on our life decisions than our heart.
This can happen as we read the word daily, but gets an extra thrust when we come to stillness on retreat and give more attention to how and what we are hearing. Jesus regularly went into the wilderness to talk and listen to our Father. He also would take his disciples away from the crowds and do the same, enabling them to do this habit. It is a space in which we withdraw from the daily hustle and bustle to hear with the ears of the heart and soul who we are for God.
Doing this together as a group helps us, as it provides a group rhythm and momentum which we cannot easily find on our own. A regular retreat is a good way to keep our relationship with God fresh and current. If you feel far from God, or as if you have not heard God’s voice in a while, it may well be time to set a day or weekend aside to be with him.
There is no set pattern to a retreat, but we can shape our time and place to suit our needs and resources. From a few hours to a week or more, you can set up a situation where you can have a holiday with God.
Where you are in silence, except for an hour or so each day when you talk about your experience with the retreat director and get helpful suggestions and scriptures to use throughout the day. Silent Retreats can range from a few hours, to a few days. Usually there are materials made available to be creative, like paints or clay. You can walk or sleep or spend your reflection time in other creative ways.
Where a talk or other input is given at various intervals and this forms the basis of one’s reflections and prayer.
These are arranged to work in according to the schedule in a monastery. There are times prescribed for prayer, reading, work and other activities which shape the day.
Generally retreats can be held anywhere. A quiet and picturesque setting is ideal for a time of reflection and rest. A wilderness setting as Jesus frequented can be a strong setting for reflection.