Retreat. How should I prepare?

I've signed up for a 6-day individual guided retreat in a Jesuit retreat house later this month.

Although I'm familiar with the Ignatian disciplines, I've not done a silent or residential retreat before. There will be 45-minute sessions with a spiritual director each morning. The rest of the time will be silent.

I don't want to set too rigid an agenda, I need to just 'be' and also, with my wife so recently deceased, I need space to recuperate, nurse my wounds and recharge my batteries.

But I do need some focus. Do I use the time to think through what I might do next? My freelance work has effectively dried up but I can live on savings for a while. I'm finally pulling out of our evangelical parish and am in something of a transition / hiatus in terms of church affiliation. Do I use the time to consider that or do I put all that to one side and go with the flow?

I know there's no single or right or wrong answer to these questions but in order to make best use of the opportunity, I'd be interested in the comments / reflections of experienced retreatants and Shippies with a handle on these matters.


  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    I have been on these retreats. Your spiritual guide will give you a Bible passage each day to meditate on, as a focus for the day, though it is optional, and they will be guided by you. You do go with the flow, but the flow is what you feel drawn to do. You will be praying, and you can tell the spiritual guide that you’re not sure what to focus on, and they will talk to you about it and observe what you feel drawn to. I would suggest don’t plan for it, as you don’t know what you will feel drawn to, but you will find a focus when you are there, and it may be quite different from what you expect. Maybe prepare by praying about it.

    I love the silence. It gives you chance to focus and realise what you want/need to focus on. You will probably get to talk to the other retreatants at supper on the first day, and at breakfast on the last day, so you will feel a bit of connection with them even though the retreat is silent.
  • Hi. I've been on many retreats. I'll put some thoughts together here.

    Be gentle with yourself; don't feel you *have* to stick with the schedule; and give yourself permission to take a walk, sleep, read, stand on your head instead of participating in a particular thing.

    One of my best retreats was one when I had Stuff going on, and some things in the retreat were pushing buttons. I wound up skipping some things, and it did me a world of good.

    Oh, and some retreats have a library, book/gift shop, art room, etc. They can be useful.

    If I think of anything more, I'll post it here in a few days or in a PM.
  • I know I can appear to be a broken record, but I would always recommend taking Dame Julian's "Revelations of Divine Love". Almost any chapter of the Long Text will provide fruit for a meditation of some time, particularly if you have things to set off against it.

    The other thing to say is that the retreat leader will almost certainly recommend journalling. If they don't, I strongly recommend it. Up to 90 minutes a day. The ability both to express yourself and to return to that expression in later days of the retreat is priceless, and in my experience helps one to understand one's current position and direction of travel far faster than anything else I've yet found. It will also help you refine what to take to the direction sessions, and what comes out of them.
  • GG, I did many Ignatian retreats for a number of years, with different directors. The key dynamic of the Spiritual Exercises is an active shaping principle (rather than a contemplative time for refection). The Exercises and selected passages of scripture help the retreatant to draw closer to Christ and to be guided by grace towards choice and greater freedom: this may involve making a decision around a life choice, or a deepening and renewal of a choice already made.

    My own directors simply suggested that I rest before the retreat and that I come with an open mind and a generous heart, ready for a few surprises. You'll be in my prayers.
  • Sorry, GG, I misread your post and didn't take in that you are already familiar with the Ignatian approach. I wasn't aware of it when I went on my first Ignatian retreat and had no idea that I was supposed to focus on the suggested readings, sat and read a bashed-up old copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance instead.
  • Lily PadLily Pad Shipmate
    Do you do any sort of craft or make things? If I were heading to something like this, I would be taking a simple knitting or crochet or other handcraft to work on so that at the end I would have something to tie me to the time there. Carving something out of wood or making a clay model, painting, etc. would all fit the bill too. I may be way off here but I find something to do with my hands is good.
  • Take some photos, pictures and positive quotes to meditate upon when you need focus. Have a notebook & pen to hand.
  • Like fineline, I've done several of these retreats. I've always regarded it as being time set aside to be with God, and simply to be open to whatever God wants to do in that time.
    I've found that my guide has usually asked me in our opening meeting if there is something I want to focus on, or anything I've brought into retreat. My response has always been no, God will set the direction & will show me what I need to deal with as & when. I have found that I've gone in with "stuff" on my mind and set it aside, but that a few days in, I've be led to explore it anyhow!

    I would say just go in with an open heart & mind, and let God lead.
  • Thanks folks.

    Very helpful suggestions and advice here.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    Thinking about it, I’ve found the most important thing to bring is a notebook and pen - then you make notes about things you’ve thought about and prayed about, and you bring them to your spiritual guide to talk about the next day. I do art also when I’m on such retreats. It can help focus my mind to be drawing something. I go outside and draw the trees and flowers.

    They usually recommend you don’t use your phone or device, and that you don’t read, other than the scripture passages they give you. I think to keep your mind uncluttered and open to God.

    You don’t need to bring much. I go by train and just take a small bag with my clothes and a notebook and pen.

    I will pray for your retreat, Gamma.
  • One of the most meaningful retreats for me was one which I planned to be very structured. I had a book to read, a journal to write in, a planned time of prayer and such. As I sat on a hill at the retreat center looking toward the town, a clear thought came into my head. "Leave all of this and walk into town and look for ice cream." I did and found an ice cream store where a little boy made me laugh. The first time I had been able to relax in over six month. I still did some reading, and prayer but the center of the retreat was a silly toddler. Trust the Spirit to place before you what is needed as a gift. You are in my prayers, for a blessed time in retreat.
  • So much wisdom here already this may be redundant, but it comes after many, many retreats:
    Don’t plan, just allow whatever happens to happen;
    Don’t assess, just be in the now
    Take a sweater;
    Take naps;
    A journal is nice but don’t feel you need to write a darn thing;
    Allow yourself to be sad, giddy, thoughtful, bored;
    Look, really look, at the world around you, be it the spider crawling up the wall or the birds in the trees;
    Laugh at yourself from time to time;
    Laugh that God is good, often
  • I'm not am artist. However I threw in pencil crayons without a plan. Helpful. (Small box of coloured pencils, the kind we took to school as young children). Words are form of thought. Colour is emotion. Sort of.
  • DormouseDormouse Shipmate
    I'm not sure if I can add much, not having been on a retreat since the beginning of the 80s - we used to have weekend silent retreats from university at Alton Abbey, near Winchester. If you want to take a book and are into poetry I have been enjoying Mark Oakley's "The Splash of Words" I really hope your time with God helps with healing, GG
  • Ok, thanks folks. I will take some poetry with me. I will try not to plan too much or over-think. I've ordered the Mark Oakley book. Sounds good.
  • Gamma, I hope that you find it both enjoyable and meaningful.
  • Thanks Rossweisse. I hope so too! And prayers and good wishes for you too.
  • Gamma Gamaliel

    If nothing happens, then nothing happens and that might be just what you need. Bulbs need to lie dormant before they can come into flower.
  • (((Gamma Gamaliel)))
    Hoping it will help you to allow yourself to "let go and let God "
  • MiffyMiffy Shipmate
    All best wishes for your upcoming retreat GG.
  • Jengie Jon wrote: »
    Gamma Gamaliel

    If nothing happens, then nothing happens and that might be just what you need. Bulbs need to lie dormant before they can come into flower.

    Yes, I'm open to that too. I'm not expecting to come away with 'all the answers' but I do see it as a 'start'. Those bulbs that are beginning to sprout, the crocuses and snowdrops look pretty but they've got pretty hard heads. I'm not sure what I've got, a hard head and a soft heart or t'other way around ...

  • DooneDoone Shipmate
    Take good care of yourself, GG!
  • MiffyMiffy Shipmate
    There’s much to be said for trying to be as rested as possible prior to going into retreat. That’s the idea, although tbh, it’s not always realistic and I’ll admit to rarely achieving such a state.
  • I look forward to hearing how it went. I hope it was restful, or challenging, or reassuring...or whatever you needed, GG!
  • Many thanks for all your comments and good wishes, good people.

    I can report that the retreat was wonderful and exceeded my expectations. It happened to coincide with some lovely spring weather and I spent a lot of time walking in the hills and woods as well as the grounds of the retreat house.

    The silence certainly heightens your perception and raises your awareness.

    I met some lovely people. I even spoke to some of them. It's strange but you really do develop some kind of affinity with your fellow retreatants even if you don't speak ...

    I'm still trying to process it all and allow it to settle.

    Had some almost St Francis of Assisi moments out in the countryside with birds. Stood open mouthed staring at the stars on a cloudless night. Met Christ in the Gospels, in art, in nature, in other people.

    My heart was strangely warmed.

    There was a generosity of spirit and warmth about the whole thing. It's what I needed. I'd walked there over the hills from the nearest railway station and I walked back, retracing my steps.

    'The retreat is over,' I thought to myself. 'The pilgrimage begins ...'

    I felt like I'd shed my skin. Yeah, go on, I've always been a reptile ... ;)

    But no, seriously, it was a very special time indeed.

  • jedijudyjedijudy Heaven Host
    That sounds like a perfect healing balm, Gamma Gamaliel. I'm so happy that you were able to be there, and hopefully your heart and soul are starting to heal.

    Thank you for sharing with us.
  • PriscillaPriscilla Shipmate
    So glad for you.
  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    Hi @Gamma Gamaliel I'm so glad it went well.
  • MooMoo Kerygmania Host
    I'm very glad.
  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate
    That's wonderful, @Gamma Gamaliel, and I'm so happy it went well!
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Shipmate
    Beautiful, @Gamma Gamaliel
  • Really glad you had such a brilliant time, @Gamma Gamaliel
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    I’m so glad it was such a good experience, Gamma Gamaliel. And I’m impressed that you walked there over hills from the station - you must have travelled very light!
  • MiffyMiffy Shipmate
    So pleased that you had such a positive experience. And as for the walk from the station- that’s seriously impressive. I stand in awe!
  • GalilitGalilit Shipmate
    Super to hear!
  • PuzzlerPuzzler Shipmate
    Lovely to read this.
  • Thank you for sharing your journey.
  • I didn't travel as lightly as I could have done. I took books I could have found there. It did help that they had a laundry and drying room so I didn't take many clothes but observed the wear one, wash one, dry one rule.

    I used to do a lot of hiking as a youngster. I intend to do more and have two stout sticks to help me. They're really useful in descents particularly and I don't like the idea of those telescopic ski-stick things. I took one and picked up another while I was there, made by the gardener. You could borrow them but I liked the feel of it and gave them a donation for it.
  • PriscillaPriscilla Shipmate
    That seems a very appropriate momentous/reminder of your visit.
  • NenyaNenya Shipmate
    Lovely to read of your retreat, GG.
  • DormouseDormouse Shipmate
    Excellent to read, GG. May God continue to bless you.
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