Friday, March 22, 2013

Spiritual Retreats

Retreats are part of one's spiritual life whether one is in religious life or not.  It serves many purposes but is always meant as a way to break away from the routine of life and to re-encounter the sacred.  It is a time to hush the bustle of life's activities and to allow the spiritual to engulf and monopolize our time and space.  Jesus himself found time to get away from his ministry and to be alone in the desert.  He encourages his disciples to "come away and rest awhile."  How does one spend a retreat?  How does one profit from it?

Every time I go for retreats, I always look forward to the rest and quiet which it offers.  It is not slothful to spend longer times of rest and sleep during a retreat.  St. Teresa of Avila always thought that one prays better if the body is well rested.  When one thinks of Teresa, one might think that she was an ascetic.  In many ways she was but her ascetism was more directed at the discipline of self will than bodily mortifications.  So she advocated finding the best position (even using a pillow) when one is praying.  The mind cannot be at ease and free to enter the castle of one's soul if it is preoccupied with the discomfort of bodily needs.  Virtues are nurtured by discretion.  So a retreat starts with a good rest and allowing the senses to settle down.  Spiritual reading is a big component of a retreat.  The best book to have during a retreat is the Holy Bible.  The Word of God is the soul's source of inspiration and catapults one into contemplation.  In the Carmelite tradition, the practice of lectio divina, is the method we use to meditate.  It involves four steps: reading the text, meditation on the text, praying the text and contemplation.  In lay man's terms, it is taking a passage of scripture and "chewing it" until one gets the juice out of it.  It is highly recommended that we use Holy Scriptures more than any other spiritual books since we are listening directly to God as he speaks to us in the Scriptures.  Books about the Saints or those written by the Saints may benefit someone, but they may be more of a distraction than a help.
Silence and solitude are a must during a retreat.  Physical separation to create that sacred space where God can be encountered is almost a requirement.  Exterior silence is beneficial because it predisposes one to interior silence.  It is in the interior silence of the soul that the real conversation and encounter between God and the soul is realized.  So it makes sense that cell phones, radios, ipods or any other sources of communcation with the world be minimized if not totally eliminated.
One's interior disposition is very important during a retreat.  It is important to incline ourselves to an attitude of openness and surrender when entering a retreat.  We need to be open to the possibility of hearing what we may not want to hear.  We need to be prepared to be directed by the Spirit.  We need to acquire the humility of heart one needs to be transformed.  To the extent that one is open to all possibilities of real change, can one be sure of benefiting from this spritual retreat.
Miracles of the heart and soul frequently happen during a retreat.  More often than not, one comes away from it strengthened and resolved to be a better person and to do more for God and neighbor.  It is very good practice to reserve  time during the year to look into where we are before God and where we are going.  Life in the fast lane can be very distracting and confusing and we need to maintain that connection with what  life is really all about and to the purpose for which we were created.  Spiritual Retreats do exactly that.
If Retreats are considered generally important, it is even particularly important, when one is discerning a call to religious life.  The prophet Hosea reminds us: 'I will allure her to the desert and speak to her heart."  Jesus spent forty days and nights in the desert before beginning his ministry.  St. Teresa summarized it in her words: "to be alone with the Great Alone."

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