Like Christian congregations have done for so long, Jewish groups are reportedly providing more opportunities to get away from life's hustle and bustle through retreats, filling hotels and lodges in efforts to worship and converse. The push among Jewish groups is reportedly part of a move toward more participatory and experiential practice of faith — beyond the traditional confines of synagogues.
How do retreats play into all of your faiths? How do they affect the life of your congregants, and/or your own?
I've used retreats throughout my ministry to give congregation members, and particularly youth, an opportunity to break from the mundane and connect with more sacred expressions of life.
Up until this year, I've organized retreats in natural settings, i.e., mountains, forests, deserts, at the beach. This year, we held our first retreat at a hotel. This venue had one specific advantage over the rustic settings in that it opened up the concept of retreat to a new set of people. It was a middle ground, for people who didn't want to “rough” it, but at the same time needed to get away.
Retreat is naturally accepted as part of Orthodox Christian tradition. In the Armenian Orthodox Church, once a year we go through a period of Lent, which is nothing more than a retreat to a simple lifestyle, filled with meditation, prayer and self-examination. On the outside, people might merely notice the dietary restrictions. (In Orthodoxy we abstain from all animal products during the 40 days of Lent, including dairy products, fish and poultry.) In accordance with Jesus' teaching, what is measured “.?.?.? is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles,” (Matthew 15:11 NRSV), and so therefore, the tone of the church changes to a more somber state, and the prayers take on themes of introspection to make the entire environment more conducive to spiritual growth.
Relationships with family and friends are inspected for riffs and then mended. The individual is called to walk in the shoes of his neighbor and feel his or her pain.
I would imagine that retreats will become more and more popular as society becomes more and more secularized. People are spiritual beings and ultimately need the connection to something greater than themselves.
Retreats are a wonderful way to make that happen.
FATHER VAZKEN MOVSESIAN
Armenian Church Youth Ministries
In His Shoes Mission
Recently, we have seen a proliferation of programs designed to enhance spirituality and promote a religious lifestyle — and certainly one of the most significant among these is the retreat.
Few initiatives can provide the intensity and authenticity of these immersion experiences. Once we are removed from our daily, often stressful routines and are placed in a natural and relaxing environment, there is great potential to reinvigorate ourselves and reconnect to the positive energies within.
The rewards of a retreat are even more valuable in today's fast-paced world. Many of us feel relentlessly bombarded by distractions like e-mails, mobile phones, text messaging and the like.
A retreat provides a serene environment set apart from the strenuous schedule of daily life — and offers a place where we can replenish the body, mind and soul.
I have also found that retreats provide a non-threatening atmosphere, where people of various walks of life and different degrees of religious commitment can mingle easily and get to know one another. These new friendships often serve as a springboard for greater commitment back home, and prompt deeper involvement in the community and religious affairs long after the retreat has ended.
Overall, I am thrilled that religious retreats have grown more prevalent, since they serve as a way to get more people involved in spiritual causes — which in turn fosters a kinder, gentler world for us all.
RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN
Chabad Jewish Center
Jesus, himself a good Jew, often retreated to a place of silence to seek union with his heavenly Father. After his baptism at the Jordan, for example, he “was led into the desert by the Spirit,” where he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Upon his return, Jesus began his public ministry.
There is far too little silence and opportunity for solitude in the world today. Without silence, how can we enter into true union with God? Without that place for self-reflection, how can we gain authentic wisdom? Our culture is so full of words. We are bombarded with them from the moment we wake up until we fall asleep at night. Radio, television and media of every expression; cellphones, Internet and e-mail; the proverbial water cooler, gossip, critiquing every experience. Our minds and lives race at warp speed, and often the result is interior “dis-ease” and emptiness.
Retreats can be an oasis where we let go of the distractions of life and enter into the mystery of God's love. We find in that union a place where truth is revealed and direction in life is made clear.
Many people, like parents with children, may find it difficult to check out of life for a few days of reflection, but far too few people are able avail themselves to the gift they would find in a few days of solitude.
Some of the most insightful moments of my own life that I can even define as turning points took place in that figurative place in the desert. I believe that retreats are a great remedy to the spiritual ills of life.
FATHER PAUL J. HRUBY
Church of the Incarnation
Every retreat offers some spiritual good, but also social good that happens as a byproduct. By “social” I mean that by leaving town with fellow congregants and going somewhere special, personal relationships develop to degrees that could not otherwise.
Imagine seeing your fellow parishioners only at weekly worship, maybe lunching afterward, but having no other social interaction. Our hectic schedules make this is all too common, and we just don't relate on a daily basis like people might have in simpler times. But plan a retreat, and things can change.
People of faith hold in common a mutual desire to serve God and to know Him better, but God didn't make Lone Ranger human beings, He made us to seek Him and serve His purposes in community. A proven way to develop community is to retreat with people you normally never see let their hair down in churchy confines, and just watch as they do. Retreats expose our shared humanity, and they challenge us to pursue purer faith together.
I remember being a middle-schooler and washing cars to fund my first retreat. I had this whole expectant focus toward God while simultaneously getting to really know my church. When I became a youth pastor, retreats meant white-water rafting, campfire worship, morning devotionals and encountering my flockette for the first time with bed-head and bear breath.
Since then I've been on retreats with men's groups, leadershippers, married couples and even nasty old work retreats, but really, all retreats take you from here to elsewhere so that you can focus spiritually and be with people. It's healthy, and it's the fastest way to make family of mere acquaintances.
If it wasn't for church getaways, I wouldn't have had half the adventures and spiritual mountaintop experiences that I've enjoyed. So, advance and “retreat!”
THE REV. BRYAN GRIEM
Montrose Community Church
My denomination, the United Church of Christ, has a beautiful camp called Pilgrim Pines. It's located above Yucaipa, east of San Bernardino.
I have been to a couple of overnight gatherings there, and I have always enjoyed the experience.
There's something refreshing about going to the mountains and getting away from the regular routine. (I believe the camp's slogan is, “The mountains shall bring peace to the people.”)
Many of our members, if not all, have attended some form of church camp during their lives, either as youngsters or adults, and I'm willing to bet that virtually all the time spent in a camp environment was worthwhile.
I personally enjoy the pastoral retreats I've attended, because we preachers get to hear from our colleagues as well as share our own experiences.
And when I personally am in some peaceful setting such as Pilgrim Pines, these verses of Psalm 23 go through my mind: “He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul” (King James Version).
THE REV. C. L. “SKIP” LINDEMAN
Congregational Church of the Lighted Window
United Church of Christ
La Cañada Flintridge