Readers may be aware that one of my ‘hats’ is to be the warden of a small retreat centre. In 2004 we had two and a half thousand people through our doors. Most people come in organised groups but an increasing number of people come by themselves for a quiet day or to stay. For obvious reasons (let the reader understand) we don’t host some of the more outlandish activities associated with the contemporary retreat movement. We have plenty of silence and plenty of scripture! It is one of the paradoxes of our culture that at a time of great spiritual searching and experimentation there are fewer opportunities for people to explore, in a secure environment, simple, direct, teaching and experience of Christian prayer.
This does not provide an excuse for throwing one’s hands up in the air and saying ‘there’s nothing around here, or I am not certain where to go or what to do.’ A good starting place is Retreat (price £5 from religious bookshops) this is the directory of all the retreat houses in the UK including the programme for many of them. It is quite obvious from the description and the events that each house offers as to which is a ‘safe place’ and there are few places in the UK that don’t have one within striking distance. So that can’t be used as an excuse!
A better excuse for not going on retreat or on a day of reflection is ‘ I’m not sure what sort of thing is which.’ I admit, there is some confusion here. In respect of residential retreats there are two major categories – conducted and individually guided (IGR). Conducted retreats have one leader or conductor; it is his or her task to lead the retreatants in prayer and reflection through a series of addresses (longish sermons) – two or three times a day. There is also a regular pattern of worship. The addresses and worship provide a framework and fellowship to support each person in their own thinking and praying. The conductor is available for individual conversation and ministry. IGRs have become more popular in the last twenty years and are based on Ignatian principles of prayer. This works on the belief that the Lord can speak to and guide an individual in prayer through the use of the scripture. Each retreatant meets with his director at least once a day, the director listens to the retreatant share their experience of prayer and then provides more material and suggestions for prayer. This has the advantage of being ‘tailor made’ for the individual. In addition many retreat houses offer themed retreats i.e. prayer and painting, prayer and music, prayer and walking to name a few. There really is something for everybody.
But you may still say ‘why bother?’ There must be a few people for who retreating would be an absolute nightmare – and that’s a pity, but there are enormous benefits to be had from withdrawing from one’s usual environment to place set apart for God. The chief gift is space; space to think and pray; space to catch up with the unfinished agenda of our lives which are so jumbled and cut short by the busyness of living. Retreats can certainly help with ‘the renewal of our minds after Christ Jesus’, and often the rest brings hope and healing. Make a resolution to retreat this year: it’s worth the risk!
Fr Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional House
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