December 22, 2021
Day 25: Retreats
Have you ever been on a retreat? Separating yourself from the daily routine and the busy-ness of the rushed and hurried activities? Sometimes, a retreat at a spiritual house of worship or a Christian camp can be revitalizing – even if it is only for a few hours.
As I think back on several retreats I have attended over the past twenty years, one immediately popped into my head. This happened several times, when I took a personal day of prayer. I spent six hours a day away, at a church nearby (in a different denomination) where a friend of mine is pastor.
Sure, I have had wonderful experiences with others at retreats. Excellent times of worship, meaningful speakers, close friends sharing deep feelings and intimate experiences. Yet, for this time of journaling for the Tree of Contemplative Practices, I knew which retreats I ought to mention.
These were times when I chose to step away from my busy life as a pastor at a small church. (Yes, even though it is small, there somehow are plenty of things to fill up a week’s worth of activities and time.) I purposed to take six hours away, from 9 am to 3 pm, on a Monday. Several Mondays, in fact. I had an excellent guide for the retreats in my devotional book. And, so I began.
I purposely turned off my cell phone. As a result, I remember being amazingly focused on the passages from the Bible I read. Time seemed to be sequestered – or I did. Almost as if I was separated, outside of time. I still remember that room in the education wing of the church. Warm, welcoming. Sitting at the banquet-sized table on a surprisingly comfortable plastic chair helped me to focus my mind and spirit on the words and ideas of the Scripture passages I read. And, my mind did not wander. (Much.) Wonder of wonders, I was able to freely journal on the thought questions from my devotion book.
I do have a worthwhile book that gives much more direction for these solo retreats. I didn’t use it for my solo retreats, which were more focused on prayer and the Bible, and how it spoke to me. This additional book is called The Praying Church Sourcebook. It comes from the Evangelical tradition of the Christian church. I’ve spent some time praying with and walking with friends from this faith tradition, and many of them really know how to pray – I am blessed by their prayer!
Several suggested guidelines include: 1) Let the Word of God speak to you. 2) Write your thoughts in a journal. 3) Plan for variety during your prayer time. 4) Be willing to pay the price (in emotional and experiential terms). And, 5) “Take time to listen to the Lord. Let the Holy Spirit teach you throughout the day. Read the Bible, respond to truths that come alive to you, and apply what you’ve learned in your own life.”  Vander Griend has some specific steps he recommends, which look like they would be quite helpful. One profound statement: days of prayer do not just happen. We need to set aside the time, otherwise modern culture, stress, busy-ness and the worries of the world all combine to keep us busy and forgetful. We must break away and intentionally make the time. (And, I am preaching to myself even more than I am writing to you.)
Let us pray: gracious God, thank You for listening to us when we pray. Thank You for times of prayer when it seems like you are right next to us, sitting in a chair or on the couch nearby. Thank You too for those times when we are not sure You can even hear us. Help us to be able to make time, take time to step out of the daily routine. Thank You for intentional times of prayer. Help us to make them, we pray. Amen.
Thanks to the website www.contemplativemind.org for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.
 Vander Griend, Alvin J., and Bajema, Edith, The Praying Church Sourcebook (CRC Publications: Grand Rapids MI, 1997) 159.