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Invitation to Retreat

Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God
by Ruth Haley Barton
Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2018
146 pages, CAD$27.14, GBP£11.72, USD$
Reviewed by Stephanie Bussey-Spencer Patton

This new book by Ruth Haley Barton is just what its title suggests—An Invitation to Retreat. It is an invitation to individual Christians living amidst the “busy-ness” of life to regularly (every two months, four times a year, often) retreat from day-to-day life and reconnect with God in an intentional and private way. Barton outlines, in helpful detail, the process of taking such a retreat, emphasizing the need for worship, silence, routine, and prayer.

The invitation begins with a suggestion that strategic withdrawal (retreat) from daily life fits the reality of the spiritual life quite well. Christians need to rest and allow God to “tend their wounds, to get a new perspective, to view life from that new perspective, and to invite God to give them the wisdom they need” (15). And so the first step in the practice of retreat is to plan and prepare for retreat, and then to get there.

Many ask, “When should I make a retreat?” Barton claims that there is no ideal time to do it. Instead, we must stop in the midst of our busy schedules and make time to go. There will never be a perfect time. Our responsibility is simply to go. We are an exhausted people, exhausted by an inordinate sense of ought and should; exhausted by finding it difficult to accept help from others; exhausted by performing as who we think we should be rather than living as the person God created us to be; exhausted by few boundaries on our service and availability to others. We are also exhausted by our own desire to control life. In such busy times, Barton explains that these are signs that God is waiting for us to retreat with God.

For a successful retreat, a simple rhythm of life is necessary. Prayer is also necessary. The participant must let go of his grip and let God be in his life. The participant must also relinquish false-self patterns. To do so, it is suggested that the participant be aided by a variety of tools to deepen self-awareness, including Myers-Briggs or Enneagram types, among others (76). In the retreat, much of the participant’s time will be spent in discerning God’s presence in ordinary life and discerning God’s guidance in decisions that may need to be made.

Each retreat is taken in the knowledge that the benefits are not only for ourselves but also for the sake of the communities to which we belong—our families, our circles of friendship, our churches, and society at large (111). Barton concludes this book with the reminder that the invitation to retreat is the invitation to continue to return to God through regular practices of retreat. We need to be saved every day from life in our culture and from the forces of evil in our world—but mostly we need to be saved every day from ourselves, from busyness and the weariness.

With each chapter, Barton includes a summary for “practicing retreat,” which serves as a helpful guide for planning a retreat. In the first appendix, Barton outlines fixed-hour prayers for easy use at one’s retreat. In the second appendix, Barton offers a resource for help in choosing which kind of retreat is needed.

This book is a wonderful resource for spiritual directors to use for themselves in planning retreats, or for directees to help them form their own retreats. Barton convinces me, and I suspect will convince most church professionals, that all of us need to regularly retreat from the routine of our lives and ministry. It is part of our responsibility to ourselves, to those with whom we minister, and most importantly to God.

Stephanie Bussey-Spencer Patton has been a spiritual director for twelve years, a Presbyterian pastor for thirty plus years, and a teacher throughout her adulthood. Currently serving as pastor of Oakland Presbyterian Church, Stephanie received her Master of Divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School and her Doctorate of Ministry in spiritual direction from San Francisco Theological Seminary. She lives in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, and can be reached at RevStephBS@aol.com to learn about retreat leadership, teaching classes, and spiritual direction.


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