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Taking Spiritual Retreats

A military retreat is often considered as losing ground as the soldiers are involved in moving back or withdrawal. However, not everyone sees it as that. General Oliver Prince Smith during the Korean War declared, “Retreat, hell! We’re not retreating, we’re just advancing in a different direction”! A spiritual retreat is not losing ground. It is taking a step sideways to reflect upon and to consolidate the advances of our spiritual life.

Our lives are very busy. We are swept away by its non-stop demands. The insistent attention-grabbing noise of the mobile phones, television and social media drowns out the voice of God. Our bodies are stressed resulting in hypertension, heart attacks and strokes. Our souls are fragmented and disjointed. Our lives feel disconnected and surreal. We feel as if we are drowning in a strong flowing river, being swept away with no control over our lives. All we can do is to try to keep our heads above the water. And when we do have a moment to take stock, we wonder where the months and years have gone.

It is essential for those who are serious about their spiritual life to take time out for retreats. As mentioned, retreats are when we intentionally step aside to reflect about our life in Christ and to listen to Him who is speaking into our lives. Retreats are opportunities for us to
• assess the state of our spiritual life
• making important decisions
• pray
• listen to God
• rest
• recharge
• recommit
• renew
• reassess our ministries

Retreats are of many different forms. There are the formal guided retreat (usually under a spiritual director), informal group retreat, and personal retreat. Personal retreat may be conducted by a person on his/her own. Frequency of taking a retreat depends on individuals. The length of a retreat may varies. It may be a 3 days retreat, a one week, one month or three months. In silent retreat, speaking is kept to the minimum. There are no fixed place for a retreat. We may have a retreat at a retreat center (which is ideal because they provide accommodation and food), a hotel/resort, a caravan or a tent. Or even in a home. Example of a personal retreat in 2011 here

The focus of a retreat is not in how it is structured but in spending time with ourselves and with the Lord. The keyword is listen.

• In a retreat, we listen to our bodies. Some of us are not very good custodians of our bodies. Often I find that most people sleep a lot during their retreat. This is because many of us are not aware of how tired we really are.
• We listen to our lived experiences. Many of us need time to process our experiences. There are grief processes that need closure. Issues of deep hurt and wounds need to be identified and undergo the process of healing. There are areas of forgiveness that needs to be worked through.
• We listen to the silence in our lives. These silence which is found between words speaks of our deepest needs, and of our innermost demons. Silence allows us to name and face these needs and demons.
• We listen to the sound of our prayers. Our prayers reflect our inner spiritual life. This is especially true of our prayerlessness. Though we give a lot of lip service to prayer, time for prayer is the first to disappear in a busy life.
• We listen to the word of God by reading the bible. Bible reading is an essential component of a retreat. In a retreat, we have time to read the bible slowly and reflectively. In normal days, many of us read the bible either to prepare a sermon or for cell group bible study.
• We listen to the voice of God. This may be an inner strong impression, a strong conviction or even an audible voice. The whole process of a retreat is to slow us down so that we can heard the small still voice of God. As Elijah cannot hear God during the noise of wind, earthquake and fire, we often cannot hear him in the earth shaking and stormy events of our everyday life.

In a retreat, we step aside to listen to the whisper of a small still voice, to reevaluate our lives, pray and to obey. That is why it is essential for us to make time for retreats. This is especially if our lives are very busy. Allocating time for retreat should be part of our planning and ministry. I recommend that we plan for at least two retreats a year. We must realize that we serve out of our being. There is always the danger that we run on empty. We may get away by serving when we are spiritually empty but it will be a matter of time before we crash and burn. We must realize that when we fall, not only we will be hurt, more importantly many others who depend on us and look up to us will be hurt too. So take time out to step aside in our busy life and listen.