"To go on retreat" can mean just about anything.
Corporate retreats, leadership retreats, new vision retreats, team-building retreats . . .
In much of my church life, it has meant to take a week-end's detour to a somewhat remote location for a couple of days of group worship, conversation, music, and dining, with occasional long walks tossed in.
A group from my home church made a fairly silent retreat years ago under the leadership of two women from Church of the Savior in D.C. We did learn a lot about the inward/outward approach to the spiritual life, but my favorite parts were silently listing on the group white board the spring migrant birds I was watching, taking a solo canoe trip around and around a small pond, and walking the labyrinth under a full moon sometime past midnight.
Some years ago, making a retreat came to mean making the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, which I did in the daily life form over the course of a year. As the year progressed, the silence became something I sought greedily more and more. On week-ends that spring, I would disappear for hours, walking the cemetery and the Little Lakes, immersed in my newfound contemplative life.
Since then, I've made several solitary silent retreats at various Jesuit centers, places where I could be assured of thoughtful daily spiritual direction and surrounded by people who "get" the need for pervasive silence. Three of those retreats stand out. The first, my very first silent retreat, at the Jesuit center in Guelph, Ontario. A bit of an incongruous week, as I was out in late summer nature all day, every day, soaked in Ignatian prayer and preparing for seminary to start week later, and yet engaged in a bit of a struggle with a spiritual director who could not get her mind around an Ignatian Presbyterian person. I never did figure out what bothered her so much.
The second, at Wernersville in eastern Pennsylvania, two-plus years after Josh died. Again, a week almost entirely out-of-doors, that time as the leaves were changing, and a week of grappling with grief in ways that made it possible to inch forward over the next months.
And the third, in between: the retreat that wasn't. The retreat in Michigan at which I got the call that Josh had died.
This year, after three or four consecutive years at Wernersville, I decided to try something different. Feeling so isolated out in Small Rural Church, I started to wonder who I knew, or knew of, who might direct me in a retreat in a city. I started thinking my way up and down both coasts ~ and then realized that Spiritual Director Emeritus, my guide through the Exercises, is at Georgetown. We have continued to correspond, and he knows a lot about what you might call the spirituality of leadership, which is a huge issue for me these days. And at Georgetown there will be lots of people! And so we worked out a retreat week for the beginning of February. Which obviously did not happen, to my most miserable disappointment.
But five weeks from today, barring further disaster, it will. The timing could not, actually, be better. After the isolation of the last two months, I can hardly wait for the liveliness of a university community. I plan on a lot of silence, but there will be concerts, I'm sure, and some lectures, and lots of people out and about. I don't have to talk to anyone, but I will be surrounded by a microcosm of The World. And given the struggles of my new small church, everyone stands to benefit from a pastor's week of prayer and perhaps (who knows?) even direct attentiveness to leadership matters.
I have to laugh when I think of my Guelph director: How can you possibly combine Ignatian spirituality and Presbyterian theology? I'm going to spend a week at the Jesuit residence at Georgetown on precisely that continuing adventure. In April. Here's hoping for a more-rather-than-less healed ankle and for the beginnings of Spring!