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Wilderness Time: A Guide for Spiritual Retreat, by Emilie Griffin

by davesandel on August 26th, 2011

Wilderness Time: A Guide for Spiritual Retreat, by Emilie Griffin, 1997

113 pages

The first retreat I remember in my “contemporary” history was on March 7, 1990, when Don Follis spirited me off to the LaSallette Monastery and Retreat Center south of Danville for a day of silence and then later, shared reflections.  Our general intention was to think about the coming year of campus ministry.  We each had a room, and we each had several hours to spend alone.

I don’t remember what I did, other than admiring the garden statuary and praying outdoors and in my room.  I am glad to have this memory.  There have been many other “retreats” I’ve taken with groups, both as leader and participant, but this is the only one when I spent most of the time in solitude and silence.  At the time, I remember, it seemed a little strange to me.

21 years later, I crave the silence and stillness that this kind of retreat offers.  Margaret and I are beginning to make weekly retreats to restful spots on campus, for a couple of hours at a time, with shared reflection afterward.  We are hoping to push through to a day-long retreat, perhaps in a couple of weeks, and then an overnight retreat.  We’ve found a beautiful retreat center in Springfield, and all we have to do is decide to spend the money that it costs to spend the night there.  I would also like to travel to St. Meinrad’s Abbey in southern Indiana, a place we have been drawn to more than once already for short visits, for a retreat sometime next year.

Emilie Griffin shares some of her own history, including memories of the first retreat she took while living in New York City.  Her nostalgia brims over with joy, because she discovered a lifelong habit than in-habits the rest of her life.  I feel like I’ve found that too.

Her book offers simple instructions and ideas for designing and going on a retreat.  Briefly, she discusses twelve spiritual disciplines that can help shape the retreat.  She points out the importance of deciding on a “general intention,” which points toward specific Scriptures, disciplines, and activities.

She also provides several important resources: three “sample” retreats with complete instructions, a variety of inspirational, instructional “encouragements,” texts for reading and meditation, and ideas for further reading.

Several times, Griffin encourages her readers to allow God to use their imaginations.  One book she suggests lends itself to imagining oneself into the Gospel stories, which is a primary activity suggested by Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises, one of the most-used classic structures for retreat. That book is The Galilean Jewishness of Jesus, written by Bernard J. Lee, S.M.

Outline of Wilderness Time:

  1. Foreward
  2. An Invitation
    1. Jesus and Private Prayer
    2. A Vivid Experience
    3. Simple Definitions:     What is a retreat?  Why, when and where should I make a retreat?  How will I know the way?
    4. Using this Book
    5. About Renovaré
  1. The Disciplined Retreat (Richard Foster,  Celebration of Discipline, 12 disciplines)
    1. Inward Disciplines: Meditation, Prayer, Fasting, Study
    2. Outward Disciplines: Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, Service
    3. Corporate Disciplines: Confession, Worship, Guidance, Celebration
    4. Are the spiritual disciplines difficult?
    5. What is this Good Life?
    6. Detachment of Heart
    7. Inner Confidence
    8. Changing Ingrained Attitudes
    9. Trusting the Spirit
  2. Retreating Inwardly
    1. The Discipline of Meditation
    2. The Discipline of Prayer
    3. The Discipline of Fasting
    4. The Discipline of Study
    5. Writing on Retreat
  3. Retreating Outwardly
    1. The Discipline of Simplicity
    2. The Discipline of Solitude
    3. The Discipline of Submission
    4. The Discipline of Service
  4. Retreating Corporately
    1. The Discipline of Confession
    2. The Discipline of Worship
    3. The Discipline of Guidance
    4. The Discipline of Celebration
  5. Designing the Retreat
    1. Choosing a Place
    2. Highlighting One of the Disciplines
    3. Making a General Intention for the Retreat
    4. A Sense of Mission (think of the traditions around which Renovaré is designed: the Contemplative tradition or prayer-filled life, the Holiness tradition, or virtuous life, the Charismatic tradition, or spirit-empowered life, the Social-Justice tradition, or compassionate life, the Evangelical tradition, or Word-centered life, the Incarnational tradition, or sacramental life
    5. Openness to God’s Teaching Power in the Environment
    6. Flexibility in Planning is Desirable
  1. Three Suggested Retreats, Encouragements, Texts for Reflection, Further Reading
    1. One-Day Retreat with Hannah and Samuel.  General Intention: Renewing One’s Call
    2. Three-Day Retreat with the Prophets.  General Intention: Hearing God’s Voice
    3. Seven-Day Retreat with Mark’s Gospel.  General Intention: For a Deeper Understanding of Discipleship
    4. The Gaps Are the Thing
    5. God’s Improvisation
    6. Accept the Invitation
    7. A Glimpse of Soul-Work
    8. Loving God’s People
    9. Expectations
    10. A Meditation for Retreat (Emilie’s Meditation)
    11. Texts for Reflection
    12. Further Reading

Some quotes from Wilderness Time:

“In the country of God’s affections, such a time and space where God is waiting for us, expecting us, offering us a time of restoration, are ours for the asking.  What we’re looking for goes by the simple name: retreat.” – p. 2

“The need to begin and begin again is universal; it is basic to the disciplined life … Perseverance is needed to live out our fundamental commitment: to serve God, not randomly but over the long run … Kierkegaard’s essay Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing and Eugene Peterson’s book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: titles that are splendid metaphors of the spiritual life.” – p. 3

“Setting aside a morning, a day, or even a week or more for spiritual retreat is one of the most strengthening and reinforcing experiences of our lives.  We need to yield.  We have to bend.  Once we embrace the spiritual disciplines, we are carried along, often, by a storm of grace.” – p. 7

“I have three boxes that I call my prayer boxes: … they represent a collected treasure trove of things that remind me to pray … paintings, poems, pamphlets, pictures, prayer cards …” – p. 8

Quoting C. S. Lewis Mere Christianity: (God) is building quite a different house from the one you thought … You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but he is building a palace.  He intends to come and live in it himself … The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for.  Nothing less.” – p. 11

Again from C. S. Lewis: (Jesus says,) “You have free will, and if you choose, you can push me away.  But if you do not push me away, understand that I am going to see this job through.  Whatever suffering it may cost you …whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect, until my Father can say without reservation that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with me.” – p. 11

“Reflect on Jesus as a person of prayer.  Bear in mind that Jesus lived, unlike us, in a culture that reinforced prayer … Yet Jesus sought times of quiet, times of solitude (e.g. Mark 1:35-37, Mark 6:45-46, Matthew 14:23, Luke 5:15-16, Luke 9:18, Luke 9:28).” – p. 13

“The story of Hannah in the temple (1 Samuel 1-3) is regarded as the origin of contemplative prayer.” – p. 16

“What is a retreat?  Spiritual retreat is simply a matter of going into a separate place to seek Christian growth in a disciplined way.” – p. 17

“When should I make a retreat?  When the gridlock of your schedule relentless forbids it is the time you most need retreat.” – p. 17

“The simple fact of taking up the disciplines is accompanied by the grace to do them.  The Lord wants us to come closer to him and he gives us the needed grace.” – p. 22

“Healing is God’s customary way of dealing with us, and our task is to accept that healing.  The Good Life comes when we stop resisting the invasion of grace.” – p. 24

“Going on retreat is really a kind of self-gift, showing the willingness to be healed and transformed.  This attitude of desire for the life of God, for greater depth of understanding and abundance of heart, is pivotal to the healing of personality.” – p. 25

“Meditation is a work of the graced imagination.  Understand first that imagination is one of God’s great gifts to us and has a vital place in the spiritual life … Often this practice allows Scripture to work in us more effectively, (putting yourself into, for example,) some simple story of healing during the ministry of Jesus.” – p. 28

“A time of retreat gives us the chance to re-encounter prayer, (perhaps doing the opposite of what we usually do in prayer)… passing through what Jesus called the narrow gate, but we find that we have entered a very large universe.” – p. 31

“People who pray make very strong claims … Paul suggests that we stop caring whether we live or die, because we know we are the Lord’s.” – p. 32

“The best reason to pray is that God is really there.  When we give ourselves up to praying, our unbelief starts to melt.  The Lord is no longer a distant someone.  The life of the Spirit is not theory but practice.  God is not distant but close and loving.  God is someone we want to be near.” – p. 32

“One of the ways I like to pray: take a Biblical text and read it over quietly until a particular phrase invites me to prayer … live in that text, dwell in it … five to fifteen minutes … stay open, stay free.  In earlier times this way of praying was called lectio divina (sacred reading).” – p. 32

“Prayer is a matter of keeping at it, a long obedience in the same direction.  The rewards will come no other way.” – p. 32

“The life of devotion is not to impress someone.  God doesn’t need to be dazzled.  God already delights in you.” – p. 33

“Fasting seems at odd with modernity, in which consumption is the norm … Fasting from not only food but from other forms of indulgence.  Fasting from people, from excessive talk and jabber, from an overload of local and world news, from addictive telephone calls: all these are forms of fasting that can heal and restore our souls.’ – p. 33

“It seems easier to partake of a humble diet when we are on retreat.” – p. 34

“What we are fasting from is a legitimate good … When the time is right, we will return to these normal functions of life.” – p. 34

“The discipline of study is for the sake of deeper understanding … the study of a tree could become a source for further conversion … (quoting Edward Abbey) ‘If a man knew enough he could write a whole book about a juniper tree.  Not junipers in general, but that one particular juniper tree which grows from a ledge of sandstone near the old entrance to Arches National Monument.’” – p. 34-35

Also from Edward Abbey in Desert Solitaire, “I believe there is a kind of poetry, even a kind of truth, in simple fact.  But the desert is a vast world, an oceanic world, as deep in its ways and complex and various as the sea.  Language makes a mighty loose net to go fishing with for simple facts, when facts are infinite.” – p. 35

Another tree (this time described by theologian Avery Dulles): “At once he began to discern the tree’s obedience.  The tree had not invented its own life story … Suddenly, in a single insight, Dulles grasped the existence and the benevolent nature of God’s guiding intelligence.  Later that night, for the first time in many years, he knelt to pray.”  – p. 35

“Often it is said of the virtues that if we practice any one, we will experience an increase in all the rest.  In like manner, the outward disciplines work in concert to improve and clarify our relationships.” – p. 39

“When we go on retreat, taking just a few possessions with us, we practice simplicity.”   – p. 39

“No one goes on retreat in a completely solitary way.  In fact, the Christian at prayer is never precisely alone.  With us comes a great cloud of witnesses, companions in the spiritual life.” – p. 43

“God is never as hard on us as we are on ourselves.  Our perfectionist natures penalize us deeply and unfairly.  A time of retreat gives us the chance to admit the hell we are putting ourselves through, to relent and clear the slate, to begin again.” – p. 51

“If you are making a silent retreat, I encourage you to break your silence for special times of worship.  At those times sound of your voice may seem strange to you, but it will be pleasing to the Lord.” – p. 54

“How many of us have thought of celebration as a grace?  How many of us have thought that in accepting the grace of celebration, there is work yet to be done?  Retreat is in itself one form of celebration.  Taking the time, extending our sense of Sabbath in a creative way, is a form of celebration.” – p. 55

“Viewed in a Christian light, celebration is linked to the sudden joyous turn of knowing we are saved, we are loved, and, above all, that the universe and time are in God’s hands.” – p. 58

“You may want to design your retreat around one particular discipline.” – p. 61

“When we go on retreat, we ought not to be seeking unusual visions, experiences, or consolations, but just trying to draw closer to God.” – p. 62

“Just as important as choosing a place and a landscape for your retreat is the business of making a general intention.  You want to give shape to the question in your heart, focus the principal longing you bring … This thematic focus or intention then leads us to choose scriptural material that is relevant to this overall hope or yearning.”  – p. 62-63

“If you want to work with the poor or to consider justice questions, you may want to make your retreat in a setting that heightens your awareness of unjust circumstances.  … Spend a retreat day in the busiest possible marketplace environment.” – p. 63-64

“I know one person whose prayer life has been dominated by Hosea.  He goes back to him again and again for refreshment and understanding.” – p. 70

“If other stimuli in the retreat setting heighten your imagination – paintings, music, visuals of any kind, books about the experience of the prophets – do not hesitate to integrate these into your prayerful encounter with the prophets.” – p. 72

“Enter into the life of Jesus as one of the disciples … Take on an attitude of discipleship … A useful book about Jesus is Bernard Lee’s The Galiliean Jewishness of Jesus, which situates Jesus within his culture and draws a picture of how he lived within that culture.”

Quoting Annie Dillard (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek), “The gaps are the thing (referring to Ezekiel 13:5 and 22:20).  The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself for the first time like a once-blind man unbound.  The gaps are the clefts in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fiords splitting the cliffs of mystery.  Go up into the gaps.  If you can find them; they shift and vanish too.  Stalk the gaps.  Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock – more than a maple – a universe.” p. 79-80

“This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, an tomorrow afternoon.  Spend the afternoon.  You can’t take it with you.”  p. 80

“For us, the most important issue on retreat is not what we do, but what we undo.  We put ourselves in God’s presence in order to be led.” – p. 80

A few “expectations”:  “Make your retreat with a high heart and a light step.  Dance your way into the kingdom with joy … Remember that all the grace of the kingdom is present in this very moment.  Take heart.  Rejoice … Try little, short prayer times.  Make them fun and creative … TAKE NAPS.  Lie down in green pastures.  Drink in the blessings of Christian rest … Take the easy yoke of Jesus Christ.  Clown around in the spirit of Christian hope and happiness.” – p. 84-85

“Lord, we are here to be your children: children for your sake … Let our prayers spring up like clover.  Let us be free as dandelions, just today.” – p.87

“Help us to follow you at least as far as Jerusalem … We’ll wave our palm fronds and say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest.’ And,if it suits you, make us ready to follow you even farther than that.” – p. 88

“Give us time in the wilderness for the renewing and restoring of our hearts in the way of Jesus Christ.” – p. 88

“Two weeks after your retreat is over, try writing in your journal about the experience … You will see how a closer relationship to God is at work in your day-to-day life.” – p. 89

Quoting Albert Edward Day (the Captivating Presence): “God is present in reality no matter what unreality our practices and our ponderings imply … He is eager to bring us such comradeship as the most intelligent living mortal could not supply; forever clinging to our indeifference in the hope that someday our needs, or at least our tragedies will waken us to respond to his advances. … The conditions for the manifestation of his splendors are not out of the reach of any of us!  Here they are: otherness, openness, obedience, obsession.” – p. 93

Quoting Annie Dillard (Teaching a Stone to Talk): “God, I am sorry I ran from you.  I am still running, running, from that knowledge, that eye, that love from which there is no refuge.  For you meant only love, and love, and I felt only fear, and pain.” – p. 95

Quoting Richard Foster (Prayers from the Heart): “I blow on my coffee and drink.  O Spirit of God, blow across my little life and let me drink in your great life.” – p. 97

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