Retreats for Sisters happen annually and are of many varieties. Retreats are 6 to 8 days in length. When a member is introduced to “retreat”, she often starts with a “guided retreat.” The week provides a schedule for each day and includes meals, prayer times, Mass, the sacrament of reconciliation, and conferences that suggest Scripture readings and prayerful themes for reflection.
During retreat, meals are eaten in silence or instrumental music is provided while one eats. In surprising ways, keeping silence while eating allows the colors and textures of food to be noticed and appetites are more easily satisfied. The color and bounty of the food that is served brings an awareness of God’s care and abundance in tangible ways.
Often silence is a challenge but gradually it opens the heart to the natural world. There is time during retreat to walk outdoors, hear the song of birds, feel joy or grief that surfaces in one’s consciousness. This happens also in a “directed retreat” which allows for a free schedule and a daily meeting with a spiritual director, usually for an hour. The person making retreat has the responsibility to use her time for prayer periods, reading Scripture, and becoming honest with the feelings that surface during prayer. During the meeting with the director, one is expected to share personal experiences and any notes made during the prayer periods. This becomes the substance for retreat growth. The director has the skills to weave God’s direction for the individual with the individual’s growth as she gives it to the director during conversations. Spiritual growth is the fruit of the retreat experience, and this growth continues after the week of retreat is over.
Retreat becomes a special time to realize you are the Beloved of God. It is the time during which God looks lovingly at you and you at God. While it is true this can happen anytime during the year, retreats are designed to make the connection with God the norm. The easy distractions of talk, noise, television and talking on the cell phone which occupy much of our time all year are eliminated. Omitting these normal communications allows the God-experience to draw nearer. The challenges to rest in silence are great during retreat but the fruit can become a calm serenity, and eagerness to be touched by God’s grace and an evaluation of the past year of one’s life.
I always felt the time of retreat was a “honeymoon” time spent with God. The image I had was that I sat with God on a comfortable couch with all the time in the world. I would feel God’s arm around my shoulder- we were that close! I would share my difficult times and my happy times in conversation with the One to whom I had given my life. At times no words were needed; other times I wanted to hear God’s voice in endearing words. But when I grew to know myself more realistically, I saw myself more apt to jump up from the couch to again show God what I could be doing, when God only desired that I sit lovingly next to him- not being busy! I appreciated the annual retreat time that taught me how to just relax in God’s presence.
by Sr. Karlyn Cauley, SDS