URC :: Spirituality

broadening and deepening prayer
United Reformed Church Spirituality articles:

Styles of retreat

Mark Argent
4 August 2018

There are many different styles of retreat. It isn’t that one particular style is either right or wrong, but here are some of the ones that are reasonably widespread:

  • Staying with a religious community
    Various monastic or religious communities welcome guests to join them for a while, typically joining the community for services and meals. That can be to enter into the rhythm of monastic life, often with the option of some conversations with one of the community members. At its best, the structured pattern of they daily offices can create a deep sense of inner freedom.
  • Ignatian
    Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, was a contemporary of Martin Luther, and responded to some of the same reforming spirit, pioneering a style of retreat which involves daily meetings with a spiritual director and in-depth exploration of scripture. Having gone in other directions, the Ignatian tradition re-discovered its roots after the Second Vatican Council. There are now various specifically-Ignatian retreat centres, and Ignatian approaches have influenced most understandings of spiritual direction. Ignatian retreats typically last around a week (though can be appreciably less) and also include the Spiritual Exercises, done in a retreat lasting about a month, or sometimes over the course of several retreats.
  • Individually-guided
    On an individually-guided retreat, a person normally meets with a spiritual director once a day, and is otherwise in silence. The individually-guided retreat was pioneered by Ignatius of Loyola, and is influenced by Ignatian spirituality, but also takes place in a wider range of retreat centres. From a URC perspective, there are parallels between pastoral care and spiritual direction, which is a way of thinking about individually-guided retreats as ones that are about people making their own journey, with someone to talk to.
  • Group-guided
    Less-common than individually-guided retreats, group-guided retreats involve group, rather than one-to-one, spiritual direction. It’s less attuned to the individual than an individually-guided retreat, but is enriched by the journey being shared.
  • Preached
    On a preached retreat, the emphasis is on sermons or talks, usually around a particular theme, and space to reflect on what these open up.
  • Creative
    There’s a deep spiritual layer to the creative arts, and the most widespread creative retreats rare around art, photography and music. Sometimes these are about doing the creating oneself, and sometimes about engaging with things others have created. These can be rich experiences for people who are used to creating, but can also be a super way to start, for example, painting for the first time, or painting in a new way, can parallel a sense of encountering God in a new way.
  • Walking
    Time in nature can be a rich element of many retreats, both at urban and rural retreat centres, but there are also retreats where the focus is on being out and walking. The Camino de Santiago is probably the most famous contemporary pilgrimage route, and walking retreats aim to catch this spirit while based at a retreat centre.
  • Mindfulness
    Although it tends to draw its language from a western response to Buddhism, there are strong echoes of Christian contemplative practices, particularly Christian meditation, in Mindfulness, which usually involves stilling the mind and becoming more deeply aware.
  • Outside the Christian mainstream
    Spirituality is one of the rich areas of interfaith dialogue, and can create rich spaces for exploration on retreat.
  • Private retreat
    The term is usually used to describe someone staying at a retreat centre without direction, but it is also a way of thinking about going to somewhere that is nor formally a retreat centre, letting time away be a time of retreat.