Individually-directed retreats are becoming popular among Christians of various traditions
Christians are especially invited to deep and frequent prayer during Lent. A retreat is one of the ways people respond to this invitation.
A retreat is an experience of God, an intimate encounter, where a person deliberately withdraws from daily activities in order to listen to and speak with God, says the website of the Cenacle Sisters.
People here are often presented with opportunities to attend retreats, which come in various forms: preached retreats, guided retreats, retreats in daily life, at-home retreats and directed retreats.
A preached retreat is usually conducted by a preacher for a big group of people, such as those in ministry in a particular parish, and it comes with a specific theme. No individual spiritual direction is usually given on these occasions.
A guided retreat is an adaptation of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit Order. Guidelines and suggestions for prayer are given to the group, with times for personal prayer and reflection.
A retreat in daily life (also derived from the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius) is recommended for those who wish to make the Spiritual Exercises outside of the 30-day live-in retreat. A director accompanies the retreatant by guiding his or her prayer.
An at-home retreat is an experience of a retreat for 10 weeks, while one carries on with his or her daily activities, led by a trained retreat guide.
An individually directed retreat is done one-on-one and is given by a spiritual director, who consults with the retreatant daily to offer guidance and whatever help is needed. Silence is observed at all times.
The spiritual director plans the retreat according to the personal desires, capacities and needs of the retreatant, say the Cenacle Sisters, who were established to provide spiritual direction and faith formation.
Asked which form of retreat is more popular, Franciscan Missionary of the Divine Motherhood Sr Florence Wong, replies that depends on what the person is looking for.
“A preached retreat is more popular for active ministry and certain parishioners, as few are able to keep the silence,” adds Sr Florence, one of the earlier members of Life Direction Singapore (LDS).
LDS is an ecumenical community of spiritual directors that includes both Religious, ordained ministers and laity, from both Catholic and other Christian traditions.
Established in 1983, one of its roles is to ensure the competency and ongoing professional development of its members.
There has been a steady climb in the number of retreatants who come to Religious-run retreat centres to make individually directed retreats, especially during the season of Lent and Advent. However, actual figures could not be provided.
Christians from other traditions make up a sizeable proportion. At the Canossian-run Lifesprings Spirituality Centre, they comprise up to 80 percent, and up to 30 percent in other retreat centres.
What are the reasons retreatans spend quiet time alone in a directed retreat?
“We are living in a noisy, fast-moving and secularized world which is very challenging. Workplace and family challenges take a lot of energy and one gets burnt out,” says Sr Florence.
Ms Marven Harkness, a lay spiritual director from a non-Catholic church, says, “An individually directed retreat is person-oriented and situational. When one is seeking guidance, such as whether to move to another job [or stay put], they make a retreat to find God’s purpose for them.”
However, the bulk of retreatants from other Christian churches “want to go deeper in their relationship with God”, she adds.
Confirming this is Canossian Sr Louisa Lim, directress of Lifesprings, who notes that retreatants come for various reasons, including to clarify what is happening inside of them.
Sr Florence remarks, “I believe there is a deep longing in every person for silence and solitude, to that place where they can find God within.”
Say the lay spiritual directors of Kingsmead Centre in an email, “Silence... encourages the retreant to become attentive to the promptings of God and the Holy Spirit.”
In the next issue: Retreat houses in Singapore
By Mel Diamse-Lee