OK..... this really started out when I heard, in a very twang-y voice, the refrain from that country-western song "Divorce"....or, more specifically, "Dee-ah-vey-oh-ahr-say-uay". And that somehow "morphed" in my mind into "Ahr-ay-tay-ahr-uay-aye-tay". Why? Well, I was peripheral to one over the weekend.
Maybe it's coincidental, maybe not.
The word retreat can have a chilling effect on people (the way the word divorce did once upon a time). Now, for the most part, myths have been dispelled around divorce. Yet the idea of a retreat - for some folks - remains cloaked in a combination of mystery and discomfort.
For those of you who have not been on a retreat, let me offer a definition (which, in miniature can be used for a quiet day): a retreat is a reflective exercise where you - alone or in a group - intentionally take yourself out of your standard surroundings and dedicate time, thought, energy and prayer to a topic or issue.
Sometimes the retreat is silent, sometimes noisy interspersed with silence. Sometimes it is very structured in terms of focus and time; others have chunks of free time built in for rest, relaxation, physical activity.
There are retreats that are self-directed (you get yourself out of your routine, go somewhere quiet and focus on a personal issue to tackle) which may well incorporate some time spent with a spiritual mentor or director for personal confession or input from a safe outside source.
Other retreats are organized by monastic communities around a topic, issue or experience. One (or more) of the Sisters or Brothers of the community will offer meditations and presentations. You may get a taste of monastic life by sitting in on some of the monastic offices and saying or chanting the psalms and attending their daily Eucharist. Simply contact different communities (listed in individual diocesan directories) and see what open retreats they are offering during a given year.
Still others are parish sponsored and one or more of the clergy partipate by giving addresses. Lay persons are then delegated the responsibility of officiating at Morning or Evening Prayer.
Still other retreats are more like extended meetings for community building, brainstorming, etc.
When I have polled people on the topic of retreats, their reservations fall into two categories: 1) it takes too much time/my family won't like me being away and 2) what, no TV/music/iPod/DVD.... only silence?
Let me use an easy example:I work - have several jobs, in fact; have chores to do and appointments to keep; if I go away, who can take care of Miss Emmy Lou??? In other words, I DO understand that it isn't often easy to get away - particularly with no other member of your family. You really DO have to plan ahead and make arrangements and contingency plans.
At its very core, a retreat is intentional. You are going away for a reason: perhaps to refresh your prayer life, or bond with the vestry, or meet other people committed to a cause, or expand your inner horizons. With all the busy-ness in our day-to-day lives it is, from time to time, extremely healthy to break away from the routine and have time apart with God to focus on something, unhampered or hindered by chores or phone calls or spider solitaire or sniffing children or overtime in the office.
It does take a bit of time, removed from the bustle of the city or the drone of the TV or the din of the dishwasher or the sibling shuffle in the other room, to become accustomed to some quiet. Authentic quiet.
When in authentic quiet I become acutely aware of something: there is a lot of noise going on inside me! Problems wrestling in my subconscious, a lurking fear about something, some unresolved conflict, a hint of guilt over forgetting a name or a birthday, replaying a hurtful comment someone made to me- or one I made to someone else. Without the exterior noise to stifle it, these items rise to my conscious awareness. It can be a bit unnerving! AND a wonderful opportunity. Becoming aware of my inner disquiet I can invite my loving God into the very center of it all so that together, in wisdom and gentleness, we can sort through it and come out the other side more centered, at peace and refreshed.
Consider making a periodic personal (notice I don't specify the length of the period!) retreat or joining in one offered by your church or group or religious order. Try a spring (or fall)cleaning of the spirit. Invest in your inner life with God and reap the benefits (oh, and your family/pets/co-workers will reap the benefits too!). De-mystify the retreat by experiencing the mystery. Amen and amen.