Nurturing/ Teaching Courses
Spiritual Formation Institute
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
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 may be found 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
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.
26 May 2015