Heading off to retreat in a few hours, so less-frequent posting this month will become non-existent. I don’t find the energy to write up a week’s worth on my day off to schedule in day by day.
Father John Veltri’s book, Orientations, has been important to me through the years. I recall his page “Entering Into Retreat” and the good guidance I received at the very beginning of my exploration of the spiritual life thirty-five years ago:
As I enter into retreat I begin with deep faith and generosity; deep faith that the Divine Shepherd wants to communicate very personally with me. God can do so only if I am as open as possible, no matter where I have been in life, no matter how closed I have been in the past.
On my first overnight retreat experience in college, the guestmaster at the Trappist abbey counseled us students to bring no agenda to retreat. It is best to arrive without a plan, or a hope that at the end of the time some new or remarkable decision or direction will be determined. I have generally held to this, though sometimes the outside world was calling.
Therefore I begin by quieting my being both interiorly and exteriorly taking the norm of silence as being extremely important for an atmosphere which will allow my Caring God to communicate personally with me. I shall take care to be recollected, to relax, to let go in this nurturing presence.
I don’t understand why so many people fear the silence. How many times have people asked about my retreats and I usually tell them it will be silent, except for liturgy. I prefer no talks, and I usually connect with my spiritual director before I leave and after I return. That is enough.
I shall plan on making at least four periods of prayer each day, at least fifteen minutes; at most an hour each. As the retreat progresses I can discover with the help of my spiritual guide the number of prayer periods and the length of time of each period that may be more appropriate for me.
The plan is four or five periods, and I find that these days, the time flies by. An hour if often about right.
In between the times of prayer I shall try to keep in harmony with the gift I am seeking either by relaxing, or by reading the supplementary scriptural texts, or by sleeping, or by enjoying nature, or by ruminating, or by a combination of these ways of recollecting oneself. I do all this in order that I may become more and more responsive to God speaking to me.
A natural setting is a plus, but sometimes I’ve been caught on rainy days, or even in a more urban-flavored environment. I remember the wisdom of a retreat master from the 90s who, when I arrived, counseled me to catch up on my sleep. Good advice, especially for me, as I tend to have one night on retreat, usually the second-last one, where I find myself roused to pray and sleep is no longer natural.
For the prayer periods I can choose one or other of the following key scripture texts:
Lk 11:1-13; Ps 139:1-18; Mt 28:16-20.
Favorites all. But I notice that Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. Since evangelization and disciple formation are very much on my mind these days, I’m struck by that right away. I suspect I will be returning to that. But wait!–no agenda.