Why do people go on retreat?

Reflections

“Like the military manoeuvre that shares the same name, many feel the need to draw back in order to seek clarity and experience God’s presence in solitude. Maybe some go on retreat in the hope that communication with the ‘commander-in-chief’ will be re-established,” says The Rev’d Nicholas Whereat

Print article

I guess there is a good number of people this year who feel like they have been unexpectedly plunged into hermitage. Much of what they usually do has been put on hold because of COVID-19, with many sheltering in their homes. For others life has been just as busy as usual, but there has been an additional layer of unwelcome anxiety and chaos. Perhaps it is this second group who feel most in need of a calm and quiet weekend.

Most clergy and a growing number of lay people love to go on a retreat each year and many prefer a silent experience. Like the military manoeuvre that shares the same name, many feel the need to draw back in order to seek clarity and experience God’s presence in solitude. Maybe some go on retreat in the hope that communication with the ‘commander-in-chief’ will be re-established.

Many of us experience something of this when we get away for a weekend or embark on an extended holiday. We can forget about the list of mundane or onerous jobs we usually feel obliged to do. Instead, we choose to do the things that refresh us – walk in a national park or along the beach or quietly do a jigsaw. The uniform, badge, phone, stethoscope, hardhat or whatever identifies us at work is left behind and we can be ourselves. Most of us are then able to go back to work and ‘normal’ life refreshed. A good retreat will also allow us the space, the freedom and the venue for this same refreshment. The slower pace of the weekend away or the holiday may bring us a measure of stillness, but often our residual business means we haven’t quite opened ourselves to God’s presence.

The Church often runs things like Cursillo weekends, Alpha weekends, summer camps, and the like. These are often designed to help us hear God’s word. At these weekends we can let go of our own busy-ness and go along with the flow of the activities that have been organised. That letting go, plus the inspirational talks, the prayers and the atmosphere, creates the space for us to hear and make a committed response. Many have found these experiences to be exhilarating life changing events.

A retreat like these other Christian weekends seeks to provide a space for people to slow down, let go of their own busy-ness and be able to hear and respond to God. And yes, there are talks and times for prayer and worship. However, usually on a retreat we are ‘given permission’ (if we feel we need permission) to choose to go to the talks and activities as much or as little as we want. So again, freedom and space are available for us to be open to God. The rest of the time is wrapped in silence. Some may experience the silence descending like the sheer silence that Elijah heard in the cave after the wind, the earthquake and the fire (1 Kings 19), Generally, though, it won’t be that dramatic!

Perhaps the silence will combine with the slow pace and the sense of space to help open us to God’s presence. Maybe even just glimpsing God’s presence means we can return home and to normal life more confident of God’s ever-presence with us.

If you need time to draw back and seek God’s presence in prayer and solitude, The Northern Region Lay Retreat Team warmly invites you to a lay retreat on 20-22 November 2020, which will be held at Maroochy Waterfront Camp and Conference Centre. Visit the Church of the Resurrection website for more information.

More Reflections stories

Loading next article