01. Escaping to God’s Arms
This article describes a retreat as an escape into the loving embrace of God. It is a movement from the world with all its responsibilities to a safe place of detachment where we can find God’s perspective. The purpose of the retreat is to meet with God, to love and be loved by him. It is time off for mind, body, and spirit.
Sometimes we might experience fears that hold us back: e.g., “I can’t take time off,” “I don’t deserve it,” or a host of other resistances. Yet when we look at Jesus’ life, we see that he took time alone in the hills and the desert places to be with God. Jesus directs us, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31).
Rubietta suggests practical ways to find spaces for retreat that are right for you in particular. Planning to bring the right kinds of tools (hymnal, journal, Bible, etc.) is important, too, as well as planning for re-entry into the world. Being reminded that God loves us and that we take his love with us as we move out can be helpful.
- Have you ever been able to get away and find solitude with God?
- If so, what have been resistances or fears that you had to overcome, if any?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being easy and 10 being difficult, how would you rank your comfort level in being able to be “alone” with yourself and God? Share why you chose the number you did.
- If you could take three things with you to your next (or first) retreat, what would they be?
02. Facilitating a First Spiritual Retreat: An Invitation to Come Home
Cam E. Yates
Yates describes how he leads spiritual retreats, and discusses the importance of drawing aside from the distractions of daily life in order to become more attentive to God. There are many distractions in life that make us confused and inattentive to God’s voice. A retreat can be a conduit for experiencing God without the conundrum of life’s static.
The primary task of a retreat facilitator is to listen intently for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Also, there is a need to be clear at the outset of the retreat about themes, expectations, and processes so that participants are not surprised or disappointed. Yates talks about the theme of “homecoming,” both in terms of being welcomed and in terms of having joy at home and being embraced by love. This ought to be the ambience of the retreat setting—a homecoming to the God who loves us.
Silence and solitude—with tools such as examen, centering prayer, and lectio—can be used to enhance one’s awareness of God. Scripture meditation—with the intent to know God in one’s life better, and Jesus in oneself—is critical. Also daily reflection, journaling, and spiritual direction can be used. Retreats should provide structure, but the essence of all retreat is a Spirit-infused experience of intimacy with God.
- Do you often think of spending an extended period of time alone with God as homecoming? Why or why not?
- Name some distractions in your daily life that can, for you, shut out a sense of God’s presence.
- When you think of going on a retreat, what is the one thing you would like to have happen to you? Why?
- Have you ever had the experience of listening to God’s voice and receiving guidance? If so, share that experience with others if you wish. Do you think our culture fosters in us the capacity to listen to one another? To listen to God?
03. A Time to Listen to the Groans
This is an excellent article that brings together the practice of retreat and the realities of the world we live in. Hudson suggests that retreats are times we must “listen to the groans.” He cites Romans 8:22–27 as significant because it speaks of groaning, and from this Hudson identifies three types of groans.
First, we groan with creation. When we focus on Jesus, we are drawn more deeply into the world that he loves so much and for which he died. Hudson quotes Hans Küng, who tells us, “God’s kingdom is creation healed.” In the silence of retreat we can ask, “What are the human cries that surround me at home? at work? in the community? To which one is God calling me to respond?”
Second, we are made aware of our own groaning. In the silence we are made aware of our own pool of tears, and we can get in touch with our sadness and share this with God in words. Third, we allow the Spirit to pray through us, and we groan as God groans for the fulfillment of all things.
Within all of us there is a prayer, but we may have a rock over the prayer life that would love to bubble up in us like a spring. The Holy Spirit can remove that rock, and our lives can become lives of constant prayer inspired from beyond ourselves. Once we listen to these groans, we will want to respond in a practical way that makes a difference. “Which groan has my name on it?” One can ask this question in order to find one’s purpose and call.
- Do you remember ever feeling extremely passionate about something for which you were praying? Would you characterize this prayer as a groan? Explain.
- Do you usually groan for yourself, the world, or someone you love, or do you continually groan in prayer as inspired by Spirit?
- When, if ever, has an extended time of prayer caused you to do something practical in the world to make a difference? Share.
04. In the House of My Invisible Lord: Making the Stations of the Cross
Stations of the Cross have been created and used in different ways down through the centuries, and although they have been used differently, for many Christians, following “the way” of the cross has been deeply significant. To walk with Jesus all the way through the last hours of his life allows us to feel as if we are with Jesus in our hearts and souls as he made his journey to Golgotha.
The stations are “stopping points” along Jesus’ journey that allow us to pause and reflect on each of the events surrounding Jesus’ death. Hymns can be sung, meditations included, icons used, and prayers said—all with the purpose of placing ourselves with Jesus at the time of his execution. This allows us to embrace the Passion fully and experience in our own lives what it means to take up our cross and follow him.
- Have you ever found that an art form, a hymn, a certain spiritual icon, or a practice brought you closer to God?
- Do you think forms and symbols are helpful or hurtful in enhancing our spiritual practices? Why?
- In practicing the stations of the cross, what do you think might be helpful about having “stopping points” where we can reflect on each part of Jesus’ walk toward crucifixion?
- If you were to create your own “stations of the cross” ritual, what would it look like? What stopping points would you include? What would people do?
05. Letting God Lead
Jeannette A. Bakke
This article describes Bakke’s experience on retreat. She learns to rest, not take control. The agendas she brings with her fall away, and she allows the Holy Spirit to lead her. She describes the experience as being like gentle “finger exercises,” limbering her soul to listen and to follow. Then she quotes Gerald May at length, who tells us that “to have no agenda, no destination, no object or project in mind, no intention apart from a simple desire to be available to God’s guidance” is freeing and teaches simple trust.
While it is hard to let yourself be led by God, when you do, you find confidence and grow into a deeper awareness of God’s goodness and presence. You realize how close God is, if you would simply let go more often and allow him to lead . . . “The Word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.”
- How might we practically allow ourselves to be led by God in day-to-day life? on retreat? in our prayers?
- Is it realistic of God to expect us to let go of our plans, our agendas, our desire to make something happen, and simply go at God’s pace for God’s end? Why should we do this? What are the benefits?
- Do you experience God as very close to you, or does he seem far away most of the time?
- How might we foster more of a closeness and intimacy with God and allow him to take over more and more?
Kim Engelmann is Sr. Pastor at West Valley Presbyterian Church in Cupertino, California. She is the author of seven books, including her most recent book, featured in this article, Running in Circles. She has also written Seeing Jesus, A Walk With God Through Friendship, and three children’s books entitled the Joona Trilogy. A new book on how to experience God’s presence in small groups will be coming out next year.