By The Rev. Barbara Crafton
Center for Christian Spirituality, Adjunct Professor in Pastoral Theology
Nobody about to be baptized promises to make regular retreats. Neither does anybody about to be ordained. The annual parochial report wants to know your Average Sunday Attendance, the number of children in your church school, how your number of baptisms stacks up against your number of funerals, and the vector of your balance sheet, but it does not demand to know whether or not the parish schedules retreats or quiet days for its members, or keeps them informed about opportunities for these experiences in other communities. So I suppose retreats and quiet days could be classified as optional, one of those all-may-none-must-some-should in our common devotional life, like sacramental confessions.
But we do promise to help each other grow in Christ, and if the centuries of Christian experience have taught us anything, it should have taught us that this doesn’t happen automatically as a result of participating in a liturgy. The gifts received in our baptisms and our ordinations must be fed and watered or they will fail to thrive. Spiritual practice, along with compassionate service and prophetic witness, is the food and water we all need.
Life is full of obligation and temptation. Sometimes these two are one and the same: sometimes we use our righteous obligations as a means by which to avoid our inborn hunger for God and feel virtuous while we are doing it. Can’t get away; people need me. Can’t pray now; must write sermon. Can’t take the time to get honest about that thing I really, really regret having done; too busy working myself to death trying to atone for it. None of the things that tempt me are bad things — I am tempted away from the path of prayer by good things! It is their sheer number that endangers me.
I will not come to rest in God’s embrace until I allow myself to stop. No, until I make myself stop. I need not fear that in stopping I will become a self-satisfied little puddle of holiness, uninterested in the world and its sorrows. That is not The Way. Coming face to face with Christ — and, therefore, with myself — will make me more devoted to those Christ loves, not less so. I will come to know and love those with whom I share silence and reflection and prayer in a place apart from the place we usually share: a convent, a monastery, a retreat center out in the country somewhere — a place just foreign enough to us that our spiritual senses are startled into a new awareness of all the familiar things God has given into our charge.
To accompany and guide a group of people on this common inward journey, whether it be for a week, for a weekend or just for a day, is both an honor and a peculiar delight. You may work hard when you lead a retreat, but you are always richly blessed by it.
There are many kinds of retreats, and many ways of preparing to lead one. Such leadership is not everyone’s gift.
But perhaps it is yours.