Summer vacation for the soul
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.” Mark 6:31
Today’s Gospel reading reminded me of my fabulous five-day retreat and the Life Lines column I wrote about making sure you take time apart to recharge your spiritual life this summer. I’ll be back in the days ahead with some reflections — and photos — from my stay at St. Mary’s on the Lake in gorgeous Lake George, N.Y. So here’s my column, which is running in the current issue of Catholic New York. Let me know in the comment section what you’ll be doing this summer to recharge. (That photo to the left was taken from my favorite prayer/journaling spot on a cliff overlooking Lake George.)
By Mary DeTurris Poust
As I write this column, I’m preparing to go on a five-day retreat. It will be the longest retreat I’ve ever done since, in the past, I’ve been able to grab only a weekend here or there. But recently, as I plan for a change in my work life, I realize that my dream of a longer and more intense spiritual vacation might not be possible if I don’t make the time for it right now. Even as I type those words, I’m thinking about canceling for so many reasons—we could use the money for bills, I could use the time to finally get to some long-neglected house projects, I could do the writing jobs that are piling up, I could take the kids to the pool.
But, if you’re anything like me, you probably know that even if I don’t go on retreat, I most likely won’t get to all the “coulds” on that list. In the end the only thing that will be guaranteed is that I’ll miss out on a magnificent opportunity to give my soul some much-needed rest and attention. We tend to put our soul last on the list, or leave it off completely, when we make our summer bucket lists.
Most of us wait all year to take a week or even just a couple of vacation days to regain our mental and physical balance, reconnect with family, and escape the pressure of work responsibilities and household chores. It’s amazing what a little time apart can do for our outlook and energy. We may return to an in-basket full to overflowing at work and an equally overflowing laundry basket at home, but the benefits of a break are worth the catch-up we all have to do later. The same holds true for our spiritual lives.
It’s critical to take a little time away every once in a while to restore our spiritual balance, reconnect with God, and break out of the routines that might be making our prayer lives less than fruitful and fulfilling. A retreat is the ideal way to refresh our souls and jumpstart our faith life, but if you don’t have the luxury of a weekend away, there are plenty of opportunities to create mini-retreats closer to home, or without leaving home at all.
So your challenge this summer is to look at your life, your schedule, the things you simply can’t ignore as well as the things that aren’t necessary but seem to bog you down anyway, and figure out how you can spend even a little time in more extended spiritual reflection and conversation with God.
Can you take one Saturday, for example, and make sure all your responsibilities are handled for that day so you have absolutely nothing on your “to do” list? If not, can you take half a Saturday or another day during the week? Once you’ve got your day nailed down, think about the things that refresh your soul: A hike through a quiet park or preserve while you say the Rosary? An afternoon sitting by a lake reading a spiritual book or writing in a spiritual journal or just silently listening for the whisper of the Spirit? A table in a busy café where you can disappear in the crowd and look inward even as you watch the world go by?
Feeding our soul doesn’t have to happen only in a structured retreat setting. It’s something we can do for ourselves whenever we start to feel fragmented, whenever the stresses of life seem to be getting the upper hand. That usually means we’ve let our connection to God slip a bit and it’s time for some quiet soul searching, which I have found with equal ease whether I’m maneuvering around Manhattan by myself for a day or paddling across a quiet lake in the Adirondack Mountains. It’s not about the exterior view but the interior attitude. Once you set your heart on prayer, retreat is possible anywhere.