What does it mean to go on retreat? Do I have to sit in silence all day?

Blog Published: July 26, 2016
By Sister Cheryl

Summertime is often a time rest, relaxation and … retreat?! Many of us are familiar with rest and relaxation, but what exactly is a retreat all about?

This time of year retreat opportunities are popping up all over for everyone—from business executives to social workers, to churches, youth groups, and more. A retreat day in the corporate world might look different than a weekend at a monastery, but the concept still holds—it's a chance to pull away from the “rat race.” Most of us are speeding through complicated lives, faced with challenges and choices with no time to deal with experiences and feelings. Many of us could use a day to rest, regroup, reassess how things are going, and refocus. As someone said recently to me, there’s no space in my life, no “margins” to handle what comes up, much less process it.

So, what happens on spiritual retreats? Although retreat themes and topics vary, you can almost always expect time for quiet reflection, as well as input from a speaker, spiritual reading, or Scripture. A guided retreat will offer exercises or questions for processing life experiences or relationships. While there is always time for individual prayer, there is also time for group sharing in which participants are encouraged, consoled, or inspired by the thoughts and experiences of others. For some people, a longer retreat—a weekend, or a week—may fit their needs. Others might be drawn to a directed retreat in which there is more solitude and a daily individual meeting with a spiritual director. With an expectation of greater silence and solitude, a directed retreat might be more challenging if you’re making your first retreat.

Being alone and being quiet can be unappealing or even scary for many in our fast-paced driven culture, yet despite our fear or discomfort with silence, our spirits NEED quiet. Many years ago, Alvin Toffler, in his book Future Shock, concluded that humans could not keep up with the rapid accelerating pace of change. We need time to ponder, to realize, to learn, to listen to our deeper, truer self. That’s what retreats offer us—time and space.

When something stirs you to think about making a retreat, you can pretty much count on the fact that God is inviting you to come aside and receive the grace, guidance, refreshment that God wishes for you, that you NEED at this point in your life. It will be a time of insight and renewal, and if nothing else, rest. Retreat is a time to learn the sound of your own soul, to tap into the wisdom you have within, and to listen to the precious voice of the One who knows you.

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