This time of year, many people have the chance to enjoy a little extra vacation time. Using some of that time in retreat to create a closer relationship with God is an important part of the summer bucket list for many Catholics. With one’s own needs, tastes, and preferences in mind, retreats can be the spiritual version of DIY house projects. These tune ups for the soul need not cost a great deal or be overly complex. With a bit of planning, a do-it-yourself retreat can render meaningful results.
Ruth Chronister, who works at Good Shepherd Books and Gifts in Fort Wayne, said little, if any money, needs to be spent to create a meaningful retreat experience. She suggested that with the Holy Spirit as retreat guide, simply reading Scripture can be a daily retreat. Should one wish to contemplate a certain topic of theology, a concordance might help, she said.
Lectio Divinia is another way to let Scripture recharge one’s soul. Each day, the Irish Jesuits guide users through patterned prayer. The first section helps users find the presence of God. Next, words highlighting freedom in Him are offered. Finding an increase in consciousness of Him follows, with a Scripture reading after that. A prompt to have conversation with Him precedes a conclusion. Found at sacredspace.ie, those preferring a paper copy can find the guide online or in the bookstore for the entire year of prayer as well.
Chronister said a great book can also be a great retreat focus. A classic page-turner is one option. Chronister likes selections such as “He and I” or “Cloud of Unknowing.” In the women’s section of the bookstore, she pulled a copy of “A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms,” recalling that one could contemplate the life of a saint and how that might be mimicked in one’s own existence. She also suggested finding an author of choice and delving into other options he or she has written. Using a Bible study guide might be another option, perhaps even focusing on one book. Those new to Bible study might look at a text from the series “Six Weeks in the Bible,” she said. One of the nice parts about taking the time to get away with God on your own terms is that you define the time spent; a book written to take six weeks to enjoy might be condensed to one a day for someone’s one-week vacation, for example.
The joy of letting one’s soul get away can be expanded to the whole family. Mike and Alicia Hernon of The Messy Family Project offer free resources with information on how a family can create a meaningful retreat. They argue four elements are essential: fun, family bonding, prayer, and teaching. An enjoyable experience will connect happy memories, family, and faith. The authors encourage parents to respond to the current issues of one’s family, recalling that no parent is perfect and God only asks us to try. From parent-modeled behavior, kids learn more about the faith and how to pray, creating special times of faith-building that will reap benefits for the rest of the child’s life. The activity is an annual tradition for the Hernons, who encourage readers to invest in age-appropriate fun; they promise great yield on the work that goes into it. In their free resource, they write, “Many times, we parents don’t know how to share the faith with our children. This retreat is a time for you to be intentional with your kids. You are showing them that you prioritize your relationship with them and with God. The amazing thing about family life is that it is a natural means for a relationship with God. Children’s experience with the family provides a foundation, strong or weak, for their life of faith. When you strengthen family life and those bonds, you will be strengthening the faith of your children. This retreat is a combination of prayer and works. Both are important aspects of sharing faith (1).”
The Hernons have fun with their kids, but always tie in structured times of prayer and teaching about faith (1). They emphasize the importance of making everything age-appropriate. During times that one parent is with the youngest children, more serious discussions are had with the older, but kids are included in talks as soon as possible. Screens and phones are limited, a rule they only break once in a great while with a Chirstian movie for younger children to make possible a specific activity for other children in the family. The Hernons write that financial investment can be as small as a new box of crayons and some paper. The important part is that a spirit of camaraderie, family bonding, and love of God be expressed in these times of joy. While the actual amount of time spent may be more on fun or “secular” activities, the takeaway is one of prayerful devotion and love of God. Tami Kiser, on Catholic Mom, gives basic directions on how to create a simple family altar (2). Such a display is a visible anchor to the fun going on during the time spent together.
Location, Location, Location
Being in the right spot might be necessary for real estate, and it is nice to get away, but a retreat of one day or many could happen in one’s own home or “secular” space like a park. Writer and speaker Deanna Bartalini describes a retreat for one, a run from one’s home, that could be used as a starting point for one or more folks over the course of one day or multiple days away from the office (3).
Setting up the night before beginning her retreat, Bartalini lays out her journal and Bible, writing utensil, way to listen to music, oil diffuser or candle, and comfortable chair, with food prepared in advance, if possible (3). At the outset of this retreat, in the special space, she first suggests reading a psalm of thanksgiving, specifically Psalm 92 and quietly reflecting on God’s goodness, listening to Him. Next, she writes a prayer of thanksgiving in her journal, then enjoys a 20-minute walk outside. The walk should be without music or distraction from the beauty of nature around oneself, on returning to the retreat space, making notes about the impact of the time and anything you believe God communicated. After writing the prayer is a reading of Psalm 103, noting phrases or concepts that are especially meaningful as takeaway in the journal, remembering God’s mercies as they are currently manifested. After praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet, she tells readers to participate in some activity that is quiet, but joyful; a walk or visit to a favorite local coffee shop might qualify. Finally, a reading of Mark 14:3-9 gives the retreatant focus, begging a final prompt for journaling about how God honors us.
No matter the format taken for one’s retreat, the time of rest is an opportunity for us to honor the One who made us and get a little closer to Him.
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