If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. ~Colossians 3:1-2
I write this blog post while sitting at Mount Angel Abbey, in the Guesthouse, while on a monastic retreat. I come here every few months to enjoy time away, in quiet, solitude, to pray, reflect, rest, and restore.
If you’ve never enjoyed a monastic retreat, what steps could you take to enjoy this experience?
First, find a monastic Retreat Center. Look on Google Maps for monasteries, priories, monastic retreat centers near your home. The abbey I retreat to is located nearly 3 hours drive from my home.
Second, discover the heart of a monastic retreat. I like to think of a monastic retreat as Mary-Time in a Martha-World. In Luke 10, we hear a story of Jesus visiting his friends home in Bethany. Martha is actively preparing the meal for Jesus and his 12 disciples. Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to him. Jesus tells us that Mary has chose the “better part,” a part that Jesus will not take away. We all have necessary active tasks to complete. On occasion though, we are wise to draw away, and go sit quietly at Jesus’ feet to simply listen, leaving behind all the tasks, distractions, demands, lists, and worries.
Third, consider a variety of ways to enjoy a monastic retreat while you are there at the monastery.
The Gospel of Mark tell us that Jesus’ followers were overcome with many, many people. “Because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’” (Mark 6:31).
Jesus invites us to “come with him.” We are wise to withdraw ourselves from the busyness of life, from the normal rhythm of a week, from being with many people, and follow Jesus away from all this to a place where we can be restored.
Jesus invites us to be alone with God, “by yourselves.” Jesus himself, regularly withdrew to be alone with God, often out in nature.
Jesus calls us to learn to Listen at a Quiet Place. We talk plenty in a week. Our ears are bombarded with many voices, many sounds. We all need times for quiet, for less noise, for stillness where we can learn to listen to God’s “still, small voice,” that same voice Elijah heard on the mountain.
I love meal times. While on a monastic retreat, I eat slowly, enjoying each bite as a gift. I bring a book to read while eating. Jesus’ followers were so busy, they didn’t even have leisure to eat. Jesus cared for their bodies, minds and spirits by inviting them away to have space and time to simply eat.
A monastic retreat for me always calls for naps. I love taking naps. While on retreat, I may nap several times a day. God invites us to come and “get some rest.” Let’s enter God’s rest, God’s gift of being rather than doing. We are human beings not human doings. Our value and identity may need to be untied from doing, and rooted in being, in God being with us.
As a monastic retreat comes to a close, consider ways to personally bring the monastery home. Here are three gifts anyone can bring home from a monastic retreat.
First, come home refreshed and renewed in the comforting presence of Christ.
Second, find a few other people in your daily life that will support you as you seek to implement something from those few days away at the monastery.
Third, seek to change in ways that are lasting. For example, consider entering into regular spiritual direction.
Since 1986, for the past 34 years, I’ve been enjoying regular monastic retreats. I can confidently declare that God has used these retreats to deepen my life in Christ, renew my spiritual life, and keep me alive and growing in faith, hope and love.
For more on this subject, see Ancient Paths: Discover Christian Formation the Benedictine Way (pages 182-197)