Our family’s road trip out West was everything we thought it would be – exhilarating and exhausting. We disconnected from daily life, and connected with the outdoors and each other. We took in breathtaking vistas, worked through the frustrations of close quarters for hours on end, ate lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and marveled at the spiritual lessons of nature.
It was definitely a retreat of sorts. Our only disappointment was that we weren’t able to spend more time “off the beaten path.” Time away from the hustling crowds with their smartphones and zoom lenses. Time to contemplate the wildflowers and make our own discoveries.
I was certainly grateful to the cars along Yellowstone’s Grand Loop alerting us that some wildlife was up ahead. I was comforted to hear toddlers besides my own throwing mammoth-sized tantrums along the boardwalks. And the murmurs and cheers of the crowd we waited with as Old Faithful teased before her explosive show did seem to add celebrity flair to the event.
However, there was a longing for more wilderness, more adventure and a little more mystery as to what might await us beyond the misty ridge and down the faint path.
The life of faith can be similar – we worship and celebrate many sacraments as a community, all with beauty and purpose. But what’s at the heart of it all if we don’t personally encounter the Three Persons who are behind it all?
Before visiting Yellowstone, we spent a day in the South Dakota Badlands. It was mesmerizing for miles. In spots, the grassy plain seemed to just fall away as the eroded earth revealed layers and layers and layers of stripped history. At one point I said to our kids, “This is why we go to Mass … because the God who made all of this wants to share Himself with us.”
And a retreat – time set aside for prayer and encounter outside of our normal routine – can offer that chance to discover Him more, even to be mesmerized as our own colorful layers reveal themselves in changing light.
I have been blessed with many, many opportunities for retreat, at various life stages and in multiple forms. From half-day retreats that focus on a certain topic to weekend retreats incorporating prayer with other activities to eight days of silence on Ignatian-style spiritual exercises.
Each one, in its own way, has been a chance to reconnect with God and with myself. To rest and relax in His presence. To recognize His action in my life. To experience the desire to know Him more and to share more of myself with Him. To be energized to share more of His love in my everyday life.
The benefits of a retreat are hard to put into words, and they’re not always tangible. Sometimes, I have come away with clarity and resolve. Sometimes, I’ve been left chewing on spiritual truths for weeks, trying to digest what I learned and discovered. Sometimes, I haven’t totally understood what I was meant to get out of the prayer and time away. Always, I have come away satisfied.
Retreat opportunities in the Northwoods are certainly limited, as are everyone’s time and funds.
If you feel like there’s no way you could make a retreat, no way you could afford it, no one who would watch your kids, no way you could catch up after a few days away – then you can be assured you need a retreat.
I can guarantee you’d come away feeling it was worth it. If you’ve ventured off the beaten path and out of your ordinary to get up close and personal with nature, you know what I mean.
“For it is not knowing much, but realizing and relishing things interiorly, that contents and satisfies the soul.” – St. Ignatius, The Spiritual Exercises.