Can we reclaim waiting – during these uncertain times – as an experience not imposed on us from without, but which can nourish us from within? Explore the monastic wisdom of waiting with Br. Geoffrey Tristram >
If the idea of a day-long “retreat-in-place” seems inviting to you, then it is God who has whetted your desire. What is God’s invitation to you? Prayer is always a response to God’s initiative, and retreat is the same. Retreat, at heart, is simply about making ourselves available to God.
This guide invites you to cooperate with God as you plan your retreat time. Less is more. We hope the suggestions in these pages will set the stage, so that you can receive God’s gift of love in a time of retreat.
the current longing of your soul
Don’t frontload your retreat day with “guilt appeasement”: catching up on overdue correspondence, organizing your closet, reading the stack of books that is gathering dust. Don’t have your electronic gadgetry close at hand. (Take a digital sabbath!) Keep a “Not for Now” pad of paper at hand, on which you can make a cryptic list of the niggling thoughts and reminders that surface on your retreat day… things to which you will attend after your retreat day.
Do get current with the longing of your soul.
- From what do you need freedom? Perhaps from fear, despair, anger, jealousy, loneliness, discouragement, grief, overwhelmedness …
- What do you crave? Perhaps hope, forgiveness, peace, love, light, compassion, wisdom, encouragement, joy…
Your retreat won’t be about everything. It will be about something which has caught your heart’s attention. God is behind that.
setting the stage
Where can you be still and silent?
What setting will be re-creative for your soul? An inside space, or outside space, or both?
What “accompaniment” do you need? Perhaps:
- music, a window, a candle, an icon
- a comfortable chair, a prayer cushion, a kneeler
- a Bible, a book of poetry or meditation, a journal
- food and drink (enough, but not too much)
- a place to rest; a place for physical exercise
- gentle re-creative activity (e.g., drawing or painting, sewing or beading, photographing, playing a musical instrument)
What is necessary and helpful?
a loose schedule
When will your retreat day begin and when will it end? How will it begin and end?
The entire day will offer you space to “pray your life”; however you might find it helpful to demarcate three specific times in the day, each for about an hour, when you will be especially focused in your prayer. You know your own “biorhythms.” When are you most attentive between the early morning until the evening? The bright times will be the right times for you to be intentional in your prayer.
getting ready to pray
To begin, you want to come into a clearing, as best as possible. The late Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, when asked if he spent much time in prayer said, “No.” But, he said, he spent a great deal of time “getting ready to pray.” How to prepare? Use the preparatory practice that is meaningful to you, or, if you are out of practice:
- You might find it helpful to use your breathing as respiratory therapy for your soul. Breathe out what is in the way. In a word, repeatedly name the “blockage” with each exhalation. Breathe in the elixir. In a word, breathe in what is healing, or helpful, or hopeful. Do this repeatedly with each inhalation.
You might get in touch with more than one thing that is in the way, and more than one thing that will help you get on the way. Breathe your prayer.
How long? Long enough.
- You might find it helpful to prepare with a passage or scene from the Bible, or with some poetry that helps you recollect your life in God’s presence. For example:
“I waited patiently upon the LORD; he stooped to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay; he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure.” (Psalm 40:1-2)
- What do you need to be lifted out of?
- What do you need to be lifted into?
“Mercy and truth have met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring up from the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.” (Psalm 85:10-11)
- God already knows the truth about you, and about others. Name the truth God already knows.
- And ask for mercy:
God’s gift of mercy for you.
God’s gift of mercy for some other person whom you carry in your soul.
receiving the gift
Prayer is a gift. If you are out of practice, or if you have lost your way, here are two suggestions.
- Pray your gratitude. Being thankful to God is Eucharistic, absolutely transformative. Being grateful for your life will help you pick up the scent on the trail of life.
- Don’t do all the talking. The psalmist says, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Prayer is our relationship with God, at God’s initiative, and God has something for you. Listen up. All of your preparation to pray may simply leave you in a clearing where you can listen. Listen up.
collecting the day
At the end of each prayer session, “collect” the grace of your prayer. What did you say; what did you hear? What did you receive; from what were you relieved? In the Gospel according to John, after the feeding of the multitude, Jesus says to his disciples, “Gather up the fragments that nothing be lost.” Gather up the graces. You might find it helpful, at the close of each prayer time, to write what is clear to you: your questions or answers, the gifts you’ve been given or the help you need, the next step to take.
Finally, at the end of the day, collect and pray your gratitude for your day and for your life. The psalmist asks, rhetorically, “How shall I repay the LORD for all the good things he has done for me?” (Psalm 116:10). Start and end with gratitude.
In this season of staying at home, what might it look to take time to stop, be still, and listen to God? What might it be like to take a retreat at home? The added work and stress of these days may mean brief respite for some while others seek meaningful ways to use their time. Realizing we have different capacities, here are a few ideas to consider.
If stopping at all seems overwhelming yet desired, consider something small, a short pause. Susanna Wesley—the mother of Methodism—had ten children including John and Charles. Susanna couldn’t get away. She would sit or kneel in the kitchen, sometimes for ten minutes, and pull her apron up over her head. The children were still all about, but everyone knew not to interrupt when the apron was up because she was praying.
Perhaps it’s not an apron. Maybe putting on a particular jacket or hat or shawl could symbolize to your family and to yourself—I am stopping now to pray for ten minutes, even in a room with others. Perhaps you have the ability to go into a room or a closet for a time. Perhaps you could hang something on the door to show—I am in here now to pray. What would it take for you take ten minutes a couple times a day? Could you schedule a day off from most of your usual routine? If so, what would you reduce? To what extent, in what space, or during what time could you be uninterrupted?
Besides time and space, try doing one thing in order to slow down. Turn off your devices. Whether standing, sitting, or dancing, just do that. When eating or drinking, savor the flavor. When something catches your eye, stop and gaze at it. Perhaps a picture or the sunlight or a shadow. Gaze to really see it. Perhaps get closer or see how it or your perception changes with time. Sleep, savoring, and gazing help us slow down to pay attention and be still with God.
Exercise and gentle movement enliven and refresh. Take deep breaths, and exhale with sighs. Stretch your arms up and out. Swing your arms, your legs, and what you sit on. Imagine you are tossing paint at the ceiling and like throwing or hitting. Try some slow, gentle movements, as if you are seaweed swaying in the ocean. Stop and be still. Take deep breaths, and exhale with signs. Put on music and move as you can, fast and slow, energetic and calm. Dance for an audience of one. Afterward, notice what you feel in your body.
Silence helps us hear what is present now. Shared silence still creates community. Retreat may something to share with those with whom you live. What would it be like to share intentional silence together? Perhaps you could choose to not talk, not listen to music, not watch devices, and still be together. Create a beautiful center, perhaps a candle or flower or image, and do your own reading, journaling, gazing, and praying. Then reflect about the experience together and name your gratitude. 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.
On 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. Pray with scripture. Read a short text slowly a few times and notice what phrase or word stands out. Hold it gently and listen for an invitation. That may be by drawing and coloring it. Take a psalm and write it in your own words, or use it to journal. When have you felt this way? How does your current life connect with these words? You might also pray without words. Sit in silence gazing a candle or focus of beauty. Sit in adoration at the One who is already gazing with love at you. Set a few times to pray through the day. Do what you know, and try something different.
Retreat, and any particular retreat, may take many forms and locations. How to begin? First, consider what time, space, activity and even clothing distinguishes and defines it.
- What could you claim to calm and refresh?
- What helps you slow down, rest, and listen?
- Where do you feel safe and secure?
- What invites you to encounter and struggle with God?
- What prompts thinking deeply?
The location, time, or practice itself doesn’t matter. What’s important is choosing to stop and spend time to be attentive, listen, and pray. What would you stop, and what would help you 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 retreat?
Start small. Be creative. There is no right way. Be gentle with yourself. You are worth it. God is present here at home with you, and delights in time turned toward each together.
In this podcast, Br. Luke Ditewig shares a conversation about “Stability” as an essential practice we can adopt during quarantine. The conversation is followed by Luke’s reflections on how stability helps us to find God here, suggested practices, and a prayer. View the full “Stability” resource >
My dear Friends,
My Brothers and I have been deeply touched by the messages of concern and hope that so many of you have expressed since we made the difficult decision to close not only the Guesthouse, but also the Monastery Chapel for public worship, during this time of tremendous anxiety.
Never before has a line from our Rule of Life seemed so appropriate. In the chapter on Worship we read that we Brothers offer our worship … on behalf of the entire world. At a time when so many Christians are cut off from physically gathering to worship and celebrate the Eucharist, our life of corporate worship continues. Even though others may not be able to be physically present, your presence is none the less felt. This is especially true at the daily Eucharist and Compline, when we have the opportunity to mention before God so many of you by name. We offer our worship on behalf of the entire world.
Last week we made a recording of Compline which is now online at www.SSJE.org. We invite you to join us, wherever you are, and uphold the entire world in your prayers.
Please know of our prayers for you during this anxious time.
Faithfully in the One who calms our fears,
James Koester SSJE