Retreat at Home
Taking a retreat does not necessarily mean going off to a monastery. Retreat can happen nearby, including at home. The core of creating retreat is setting aside normal work and routines in order to focus on personal prayer. Create retreat for yourself with a few hours, a day, or a few nights.
We Brothers create one day of retreat a month for ourselves at the Monastery. Since corporate prayer is our central work, Brothers pray together less on our retreat days. We reduce our schedule by not praying Morning Prayer or Compline together. Most of us sleep in and go to bed early. We do not host guests. Though we do have a Eucharist and Evening Prayer, no one preaches, and we spend the whole day – meals, dishes, and otherwise – in silence in order to honor and not interrupt one another’s prayer.
To create your own retreat at home: what would it take for you schedule a day off from most of your usual routine and instead focus on personal prayer? What would you reduce? To what extent, in what space or during what time could you be uninterrupted? How could you cultivate silence?
The first gift of retreat is often sleep. What would it take to go to bed early, to let yourself sleep in, and to take a nap? I call these three “the retreat trinity.” After receiving these, when our body is refreshed, we are more able to hear what God is speaking.
While retreat can happen anywhere, it may be easier or more helpful for you to get away, as home can be so distracting. Consider going to a park, a botanical garden, a forest, or a beach. Stroll and wonder at beauty. Stop to gaze and listen. What kind of places invite you to listen, to pray, to connect with God? It might not be outdoors, and it might not be quiet and away from people. Perhaps go to an art museum, a library, or a church.
When guests come to the Monastery, some stay inside, some walk along the river, and some walk the quiet streets nearby. Others enjoy the bustle of Harvard Square. One of my friends who enjoys silence also feels drawn to God when beholding the diversity of people in the city. Perhaps, like him, you may feel drawn to pray in a coffee shop or walking city streets with lots of people.
If you are able to go away somewhere for a night or more, wonderful. This is like a vacation, a reconnection, a restoration, an intervention with God. You might go solo, or you might go with a friend (if you do, choose if and when to talk and share some time together). Turn off your devices. Do one thing at a time. Savor food. This will help you slow down and pay attention.
Retreat can even be something to share with those with whom you live. What might it be like to cultivate silence together at home for an afternoon or for a day? Perhaps you could choose to not talk, not listen to music, not watch devices, and yet still be together. Build a fire, do your own reading, journaling, gazing, and praying. Then reflect later about your experiences and share what you’re grateful for. I know some housemates who tried this for a season. They doubted the idea but found it doable and refreshing. This practice might be as regular as a weekly Sabbath or a monthly or quarterly retreat.
We claim times of retreat, above all, in the hopes of setting aside more time for personal prayer. In our Monastery, each Brother generally sets three periods for personal prayer along with recreative activities like walks and gentle exercise. Four times a year, our monthly retreat day focuses on fasting and intercession. We fast throughout the day and, in the afternoon, take a turn of an hour in intercession before the reserved Sacrament at our side altar in the St. John’s Chapel. On your own retreat, pray as you already do, in whatever form is already familiar: with or without words, eyes open or closed, standing, sitting, kneeling, in another shape, or moving. Set a few times to pray through the day. Do what you know. And try something different.
If you have been on retreat at the Monastery or away elsewhere, what was most meaningful to you? What are one or two aspects of that experience you could choose to recreate for yourself?
Retreat, and any particular retreat, may take many forms and locations. How to begin? First, consider places nearby, even in your own residence:
- What spaces calm and refresh you?
- What activities help you slow down, rest, and listen?
- Where do you feel safe and secure?
- What invites you to encounter and struggle with God?
- What setting prompts thinking deeply?
The space you choose need not be far away. What’s more important is choosing to stop and spend time in those spaces. Stop and breathe. Stop and listen. Stop and pray.
Then, as you craft your retreat time, consider what you will stop, and what will help you to stop. What would support you in putting aside your daily work and routines in order to focus on prayer? How would companionship help or hinder you either in the planning, provision, or experience of the retreat?
Retreat is much more than going away and it does not require going far away. Start small. Try and try again. May you be creative and intentional as you choose time and space for retreat. You have what you need, and you are worth it. God waits with delight to be with you, to refresh and deepen you.
Br. Luke Ditewig