Spending time in quiet meditation away from everyday life to deepen our relationship with God has long been part of a Christian life, as modelled by Jesus. As a predominantly Anglican organisation, the APR believes retreat is a vital part of growing closer to God because:
It’s what Jesus did
Three of the Gospels record that Jesus fasted and prayed for forty days and nights in the Judean desert in preparation for his public ministry. It is this time of intensive retreat – the basis of the Christian season of Lent – that is typically pointed to as the main Biblical basis for Jesus’ followers to undertake retreat.
But there are many other examples within the Gospels where Jesus and his disciples would physically take themselves away from the dramatic activity of miracles and preaching to pray, reflect and refocus.
Jesus would go on overnight retreats: “He departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12). And he would sometimes take his immediate followers with him: “He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’ People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place” (Mark 6: 30-32). Theologians have pointed to numerous other examples, from Jesus’ visit to Mary and Martha, to his time in the Garden of Gethsemane.
It’s deep-rooted in the Church’s tradition
Retreats first became prevalent within the Christian Church during the 16th and 17th centuries, championed by advocates like St Frances de Sales and St Vincent de Paul. In the Roman Catholic Church, undertaking retreat became a regular part of religious life for both clergy and lay people during the 19th century; while in the Church of England it was the Oxford Movement during the 1850s which brought retreat into the mainstream of Anglican practice. Today, people from all Church traditions (and none) enjoy the benefits of retreat.
It’s simply good for you
A retreat refreshes and revitalizes, and presents a specific opportunity to spend ‘quality time’ in prayer and contemplation. At a practical level, taking time out to recharge and reflect can act like a holiday, relieving stress and fatigue and offering a fresh perspective on issues and concerns back at home.
But leaving behind usual day-to-day distractions, and perhaps familiar people and places, can also place us in a better position to focus on our relationship with God and to engage more deeply in “the ongoing conversion of heart that is critical to deepening faith”.