"The presence of others all together at a beautiful renewal center dedicated to prayer, immediately set a tone for me. Leaving behind the distractions of my life was effortless in this lovely, welcoming, hushed and holy atmosphere."
It is hard to find people who are in the habit of scheduling whole days for spiritual renewal – who set aside morning till evening simply to be with God. Some of us cannot imagine carving out the time. Some of us are intimidated by the prospect of it. Some of us don’t know how we would pass the first hour, let alone a whole day of this ‘emptiness’.
I was glad to find others way ahead of me in this discipline, when I attended a retreat organized by a group of women in Cincinnati. (Time of Refreshment, through the ministry of the Evangelical Community Church.) The planning team combines careful preparation, much prayer in advance, a lovely setting, a theme with visual elements, good teaching and just enough structure to craft a retreat experience that is enriching for everyone, from beginners to seasoned participants.
Until I had this help from others, I always thought retreats were a good idea, but had trouble pulling them off. The first time I tried it, I was a depressed teenager longing for the peace and joy that was supposed to come with one’s faith. I read some spiritual heavy-hitter who talked about how the desert fathers took off for days of fasting and solitude, and figured that was what I needed to overcome my sense of distance from God. Hoping for some spiritual breakthrough, I took off for a two mile walk to a relative’s unused art studio, where I read the book of Mark and wrote in a journal. Whatever experience of God I had hoped for did not happen. I spent much of the afternoon crying and walked home feeling worse than before I started.
Another time I went to a monastery, where a kind nun ushered me to a room I would have to myself. I could have spared her the trouble and stayed home, since I fell asleep for most of the day.
I would not consider these attempts to be failures; I’m sure God was pleased with the choice to give a whole day only to our relationship, and sometimes the best we have to offer God is our sorrow, or our tiredness. Nevertheless, I think many of us do better, especially on first retreats, by embarking on them in community.
My first “Time of Refreshment” retreat was a delight. The presence of others all together at a beautiful renewal center dedicated to prayer, immediately set a tone for me. Leaving behind the distractions of my life was effortless in this lovely, welcoming, hushed and holy atmosphere. The theme was Christ being the light of the world, and everywhere candles blazed. A teaching of an hour or so further focused me and gave me material for meditation and prayer, and I was armed with a handout of verses, quotes and questions to guide a private retreat time of several hours.
Longing for a deep solitude, I remember going to my car, which I parked overlooking a lovely view of the grounds. There I had a sense of shelter; in the same way that a newly lit fire takes hold only when it is protected from the wind, I felt God’s sheltering hand around my whole being. It was a healing day, made richer by a small group time of sharing to end the retreat.
Retreat experiences like this, where we pool the best of our wisdom, care and creativity to help one another draw near to God, are such a gift.
Colleen Scheid is a member of “Friends of the Groom” theater company, and a freelance writer of drama, articles and fiction.