By Christine Hall, Director of Way of the Spirit
Spiritual retreats are powerful opportunities to cultivate our best intentions for a life of faith, and help to grow the kind of courage needed to act as led by the Spirit.
Strengthen our best intentions
Retreats are all about intention—where you are aiming, or your sense of purpose. To be clear, intentions are not the same as New Years resolutions. Most of those well-meant goals fade after six weeks or so of challenges and weakening willpower. Intentions do something different inside us. They orient us through trial and error, both success and failure. They help convert an inner sense of Divine guidance into determined action.
So, when’s the last time you went on spiritual retreat? I mean time set apart, outside normal routines, removed from the fray of everyday life. A day, a weekend, or a week away. On retreat, we return to the core of our life with God. In our tumultuous culture, retreats may seem to some to be indulgent, irrelevant, or, perhaps meant for someone else, someone more “holy.”
Consider your central spiritual intentions and how you devote time and resources to them. Do you value regular prayer and weekly worship? Scripture reading? Service to people less fortunate or doing something meaningful to protect the imperiled earth? My intentions help position my desires with and for God. Retreats allow us to be attentive to the “still, small voice” of the Spirit within.
Can you hear the hidden “tension” in intention? Intentions stretch us between what we are and what we could be. We reach toward God, and The Holy always meets us there. Intentions are a kind of inner action, like extending invisible muscles. I stretch toward inner listening because I wish to grow in my capacity to hear and respond to Divine guidance in everyday life. When we are guided by the Spirit, our hearts catch fire; we discover gifts and energy for tasks that make Goodness visible in the world. We become coworkers in the Reign of God.
Prepares us to live in turbulent times
Six years ago, I was privileged to help birth a retreat-centered program called Way of the Spirit—a curriculum of retreats and learning for compassionate action which rises from the wisdom of the Christian-Quaker tradition. Quakers have a unique way of exploring the experiential reality of God in ordinary life. They’ve been called “everyday mystics,” since they recognize that an active, faithful life, and contemplative quiet are inextricably woven. They honor a sense of the immediate Guidance of Christ as their Inward Teacher, present and active within.
The world needs people of faith to step up and into challenging situations. But how do we know what is ours to do? How do we run without faltering, without burning out or losing hope? Our heritage teaches that Jesus was extremely active in teaching, healing, and walking beside the hurting and oppressed. Where did the fuel for all that compassion come from? We can imagine he didn’t just “go through the motions” of ministry. He didn’t act out of guilt or obligation, but a powerful experience of a loving God.
Since Jesus often said, “follow me,” it helps to notice how frequently he stepped away from activism into times of prayer and reflection. Look at the spaces between all that ministry. Pay attention to how many times he went off to the hills (Luke 6:12), woke early (Mark 1:35), or got out on the lake to pray (Mathew 14:13). He honored hours and days of solitude away from the pressing crowd to commune in quiet intimacy with his Abba. Even the hurried social activist gospel of Mark mentions at least nine examples of what we might call “retreat.” Jesus specifically calls his disciples away from things to rest (Mark 6:31-32). As “friends of Jesus” (see John 15:14-15), we can follow Jesus away on retreat too.
It might have seemed easier for us to get away on retreat in less turbulent times. Calls to action and service are multiplying in 2017. But retreats are more urgent than ever now. We need retreats like Jesus did, to do the hard stuff that needs doing: to speak the Truth with love in desperate places; to act with confidence when the world shouts cynicism and hopelessness. We need courage to be truly Spirit-led in our times of violence, environmental crisis, and political and social divisions.
Stretches our spiritual muscles
How does your faith grow courage? Not courage as the opposite of fear, but courage as the ability to stand, remain trusting in God, and to act despite fear. The world needs people of courageous trust. So, beyond merely “stretching” those inner spiritual muscles, more may be required of us. Think of exercise. Our culture recognizes the need to exercise physical muscles. We can’t run or walk a 10K race without some serious conditioning. Could we bring the same intentionality to our inner lives of faith? Do you imagine faith as a stroll in the park or an ultra marathon? Maybe it’s both. Our times seem to ask us to be ready for anything!
Remember that Jesus didn’t say the commonwealth of God would come when the Romans fell, or if a particular party held the White House. Jesus said the reign of God is now, is within (Luke 17:21). It takes courage to go within, to open all I am to the Divine Lover of Souls. That’s what retreats are for. In Way of the Spirit, our intention is to open our lives to God and be guided and en-couraged. Hear the ancient call to intention and courage in a contemporary interpretation of Psalm 40 by Nan Merrill (Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness, 1997):
I waited patiently for the Beloved,
who heard my cry and came to me.
Love raised me from the pit of despair,
out of confusion and fear,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
There is a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to the Beloved.
Way of the Spirit might be a path for you.
In Way of the Spirit, we focus our intentions over two years and six substantial retreats. We have presentations, readings, small group sharing, reflections, prayer practices, online community, group calls, and supportive spiritual accompaniment. The program seeks to fill an aching need for something between a single adult ed. class, or weekend retreat, and a full seminary education. We recognize that all are called uniquely, not only into pastoring or preaching. The program explores less visible ministries: gifts that flow in service, coming alongside the suffering, or organizing soup kitchens.
Way of the Spirit welcomes participants from the western U.S. and Canada, and beyond. We offer a gently guided approach that is uniquely attentive to the movements of the Holy within each individual. Program content is grounded in Quaker spirituality, even as Quaker participants are enriched by ecumenical perspectives. Program modules stimulate learning on topics like these: the inner journey—recognizing the presence and action of God within; prayer and spiritual practice—holistic and creative ways to relate to the Divine; spiritual discernment; God between us—a relational spirituality; forgiveness; spiritual accompaniment or companioning; and living out “leadings” of the Spirit into action for peace, justice, compassionate care, or even becoming an everyday prophet. All our efforts are about growing in trust of God.
Details, photos, alumni comments, and online application are posted on the Good News Associates* website here: https://goodnewsassoc.org/spirit/. If you feel drawn to Way of the Spirit, we welcome your application as soon as possible for the 2018 retreat cycle beginning February 8–11th.
*Brought to You by Good News Associates:
Good News Associates (GNA) provides the non-profit home, discernment support, and board oversight for Way of the Spirit, alongside other GNA ministries that extend beyond church walls. Way of the Spirit is funded by participant fees and tax-deductible donations through GNA.