For the August book club, I often feature fiction for those lazy days around the holiday pool or home, writes Amy Boucher Pye.
But this year I’m sharing a wonderful book on retreat, for true rest can come when we find rest for our souls. (And of course I still adore fiction – check out the wonderful bookshop-related novel by Katherine Reay in this month’s interview.)
Ruth Haley Barton is a spiritual director who has written many books on the spiritual disciplines and what she and others call the sacred rhythms. In Invitation to Retreat, she acts as a trusted guide, not only exploring why we should set aside some time to go deeper with God but also how to do it.
Living in a world that rarely unplugs, we can find our relationship with God dwindles or withers when we don’t respond to his invitation to come away with him and rest for a while. For if we don’t get fully quiet, we’ll never “go to the bottom of our pain, our sadness, our emptiness, which means we never find that rock-bottom place of the peace that passes understanding and rest ourselves there”.
A key part of retreat is surrender to God – relinquishment. As we lay down our ideas about our lives, and even how we think the retreat should go, we increasingly root our identity in Christ. We look to God for direction, affirmation and meaning. And he responds to us, sending us his love.
I appreciate Ruth’s exploration of discernment and especially how Christians who love deeply need to be aware of the temptation to go for the “good” rather than the “best”. For to embrace the best, we often have to decline doing many good things; these initiatives can distract us from the true thing we should be pursuing.
She emphasises that a retreat should be made with silence as a key part of the experience: “No matter what the structure, to be a spiritual retreat the emphasis must remain on the primary purpose for retreat time: solitude, silence, rest, listening and responding to the Spirit of God deep within.”
While I prefer complete silence when on a personal retreat, such as my recent trip to the wonderful Westwood Christian Centre where I spoke to no-one, I know not everyone thrives in this environment. I lead retreats in El Palmeral (see pages 26–27), where there are periods of silence, but also times of deep communion through conversation. I wouldn’t want to discount those times of relating with others.
A fine book to read before you go on retreat and to keep with you for its thought-provoking questions. I recommend it highly.