Retreat is all about Pilgrimage

As followers of Jesus we are all part of an ongoing faith journey from ‘captivity to freedom’, which takes place in the ‘landscape of the heart’. Retreat is pilgrimage because it is ‘the symbolic acting out of an inner journey’. We begin to take stock of our lives and look for that which really counts. This often requires that we take steps to leave the pressures and demands behind for a time and ‘return to the heart’.

Hence retreat is a journey to the centre of the spiritual world of our own inner life, and as such we need to beware & be aware that retreat is not always a nice place to be, as it often exposes our hearts. To stop, to withdraw from the pace of life, allows those things we suppress to come to the surface. So, to truly open our hearts to God often means that we discover what Thomas Merton called ‘the inner contradictions’ and ‘chaotic forces’ that are happening all around us/within us. Retreat can bring us face to face with the ‘in between place’ of our old comfort zones and the huge changes of a ‘nothing makes sense’ new age culture in an increasingly post modern world. It is not a fun place to be. Think, for example, of Israel in the desert, Joseph in the pit, Jonah in the belly of the whale, John the Baptist in prison, the three Mary’s tending the tomb, and you get the idea.

We can see, with this understanding, that retreat is not an escape from reality but a very real engagement with reality and often about facing the truth about one’s self. So, in taking a retreat we must bear in mind that God is at work, and that the inner journey stuff is not always pretty. We can also see that the purpose of retreat is to dispel illusion, set aside distraction and begin to penetrate the superficiality that deadens sensitivity to God. It is the opposite of a ‘spiritual ostrich’ attitude of burying your head in the sand.