In the seasonal rhythm of my life, I treasure an annual Quiet Day retreat, held near the cathedral grounds and organized by the Evelyn Underhill Association around the June 15 feast day of this 20th century Anglican spiritual director, writer. I have missed that Quiet Day for two years now (the online events being offered in its place this year can be found here). But reflecting on what I’ve missed has me thinking about the deeper importance of times of retreat in my life–and in the lives of so many who are busy with what we hope is God’s work.
A true retreat is time away with God, a chance to receive the spiritual light and food that God is always offering to us, and that we are often too busy to receive. All that is asked of us is to accept Jesus’ invitation to “come away…and rest awhile.” (Mark 6:31 ) That can be the hardest part. When you pray, Jesus says “go into your room and shut the door,” (Matthew 6:6) closing off other demands and occupations so that the space you are in, inwardly and outwardly, is space for God alone. “It is the shutting of the door,” writes Underhill “that makes all the difference between a true retreat and a worried spiritual weekend.”
During the pandemic that shutting of the door has been an interior choice for me–a day or an afternoon, here and there, to turn off texts and emails and focus intentionally on God–sometimes with help from online content. But as the world reopens, I rejoice that there will again be opportunities to come away with intention, to be in a place that has been richly prayed in over time, alone or with others, perhaps through a program offered by the diocese or a retreat house–to invite and allow the Holy Spirit to refresh and revive us through prayer, worship, silence, quiet fellowship, food and hospitality. A retreat offers the gift of “singleness of heart”: It closes the door on our daily busy-ness and opens the door of our hearts to what Underhill calls “that deep place where the soul is anchored in God.” There we can rest with the One who loves us, to be refreshed and re-energized for the work of Love.
Kathleen Staudt is a member of Our Saviour, Hillandale and serves on Diocesan Council. She is the President of the Evelyn Underhill Association and has taught in the Diocese’s School for Christian Faith and Leadership.