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By Barbara Crafton
The format is usually the same from place to place: I give several talks, with a little back-and-forth talk together after each one, and a period of quiet time in which retreatants can think their own thoughts about what has been said. Most of them are in silence while they do this, but they can talk quietly if they want to -- we're all adults, and there is no Quiet Day Silence Police. I only ask them please, to talk about things that matter and please, not to talk about church business -- that will all still be there when we're finished, and some of it will be even worse than it was when you came.
Usually I ask for a room in which I can speak to people in private, should anyone desire to do that. A sacristy or somebody's office is fine -- all I need is a door and two chairs. If the door's open, come on in. If it's closed, just lurk near it and it will be open soon.
At lunch, we talk -- normally, I ,mean, as in conversation. About halfway through lunch, I usually read from one or two of my books. Then another cycle of talk and silence. Sometimes there's a Eucharist at the end. Usually there is not -- just a blessing and good-bye.
It is remarkable how restorative just one day spent in this manner can be. No phones, no media, no power point, no small groups tediously reporting back -- these things are fine for a conference or a workshop but not for a retreat. They are work, and a retreat is the opposite of work. A retreat isn't making something, though we do often talk about "making a retreat." Rather, a retreat is taking -- taking a gift God continually offers but which we are usually too busy even to see, let alone accept. We make room for ourselves and God in a retreat. Room for joy and room for sorrow, room for truths we may not have understood before. Or, maybe, truths we have understood all too well and sought to avoid. Central among these truths is the fact that we are beloved of a God who understands us better than we understand ourselves.
In a sense, all retreats are self-directed, even retreats led by a retreat conductor. You alone determine how far you wish to go -- or if you wish to go any distance at all. Some people just sit, soaking up silent refreshment against the busy world to which they will soon return. Some talk. Some probably doze off. And some are transformed forever.
Many people make it their business to go on retreat at least once a year. Put it in your calendar, as if it were a meeting, or a continuing education experience, as if it were something you had to do. Find a convent or monastery near you. Don't be afraid to cross denominational lines -- they are far less important to God than they are to us. Ask a clergyperson to help you find the right place for you. Even a day is good -- a weekend is better, of course, and a week is pure heaven.
Do it. Plan your retreat today, and then go. Even if it's just a day. Your spirit needs and deserves it.