Spiritual retreats are on the rise. They allow you to cut yourself off from the world to take the time to explore your inner life, to truly find yourself, to question the meaning of existence, your faith… Explanations.
What is a spiritual retreat according to the Bible?
Spiritual retreat, often associated with contemplative practices and inner inquiry, finds echoes in the Bible. “The notion of spiritual retreat does not appear clearly in the Bible, but in the Old Testament, which is common to Jews, Catholics and Muslims, many people withdraw from the world to pray. In the New Testament, Jesus also often retreats into the desert to pray to his father. Spiritual retreat has always existed spontaneously“, notes Clémentine Rousseau-Lubin, pastoral assistant at the parish of Vanves and author of “Time for a spiritual retreat” published by Privat editions.
Spiritual stays also accessible to atheists
If the image of spiritual retreat is often associated with that of religion, these stays are not reserved for believers or practitioners. Even people who do not belong to a religious community can take part, hence the term spiritual retreat and not religious retreat. “We find this notion in Zazen for example. In this form of oriental meditation, people also withdraw from an active life for a day, a week or their entire life depending on the rhythms and desires of each person. This need to walk towards God, towards the light or towards oneself, I have observed it both in atheists and in very religious people.“, confides Clémentine Rousseau-Lubin. It is an opportunity for retreatants to satisfy a quest for interiority, to try to answer the big questions of existence, to take a break for the heart and mind.
What is the purpose of a spiritual retreat? Why take a spiritual retreat?
The spiritual retreat provides a space for reflection, prayer and meditation. It is a deliberate time to disconnect from the daily hustle and bustle and reconnect with deeper aspects of existence, to cultivate inner peace and to cultivate one’s spirituality. “In our current life, we are used to setting goals but the spiritual retreat has no particular goal. It’s the journey itself that matters. Life is very materialistic and this way of living is not always in harmony with oneself; there we want to reconnect with our deep nature. Retreatants often get more out of it than they expected“, notes Clémentine Rousseau-Lubin.
What can you do on a spiritual retreat?
Many people, regardless of their religious affiliation, engage in spiritual retreats to find balance and serenity in their lives. Spiritual retreats can take different forms depending on where they are offered. It’s up to each person to choose the one that suits them best.
Pray, indulge in meditation
During spiritual retreats, it is common to listen to Buddhist religious or spiritual texts, for example, which encourage reflection. Retreats can thus include services, Eucharistic celebrations, vigils, processions, confessions, etc. Spiritual accompaniment is often possible and desirable, especially for novices.
There are also spiritual retreats where silence is required. No one speaks, which allows room for rest, meditation and the possibility of thinking about God in silence. Clémentine Rousseau-Lubin recommends going there gradually and not immediately heading towards this type of retreat if it is a first experience.
Some spiritual retreats also offer physical practices in addition to meditation times. There can be yoga sessions or hikes through the forest, by the sea, or in the desert to encourage reflection.
These retreats are often accompanied by moments of sharing between the participants, but some also allow you to stay alone even while being in a group, meals… Some retreats are themed or even intended for mothers who wish to take a break, for young people, couples and engaged couples, families…
Clémentine Rousseau-Lubin explains, however, that the pilgrims who set off on the road to Compostela are not in a spiritual retreat. The approach is different.
Spiritual retreat: How to find the one that suits you?
There are many different retreats. To choose the one that best suits you, you first need to ask yourself the right questions:
- Do I want to go alone, as a couple, with a friend, or with family?
- Do I want to go close to home? Escape far away?
- Do I want to pray and listen to religious texts or be inspired by spiritual texts?
- Do I want to do a particular activity during this spiritual retreat? (yoga, walking, etc.)
“Often when choosing, we start by seeing what people around us do for retirement. It generally starts with an activity that we practice weekly, like yoga for example, and that we seek to discover more fully during this type of stay. The desire to go and meditate can also arise following a meeting with a religious person.“, remarks Clementine.
In any case, she recommends starting with a day or weekend before considering a longer stay. This allows you to see if this type of stay corresponds to your needs and desires.
Abbey, monastery, spiritual center… Where to take a Catholic retreat in Europe?
Several sites welcome people wishing to practice a spiritual retreat. For an ecumenical retreat, Clémentine Rousseau-Lubin recommends the retreat of the community of Taizé in Saône-et-Loire. In Paris, it is possible to spend a few days at the Sacré Cœur. In Vanves, the Sainte-Bathilde priory and in Poitiers, the Sainte-Croix abbey, organize retreats to pray.
Monasteries and abbeys communicate little but it is always possible to contact them to find out if they agree to receive you. A piece of advice: contact them well in advance because they are extremely busy. The website Fondationdesmonasteres.org lists various communities. Do not hesitate to consult the websites of each to find out their reception arrangements.
Where to do a Buddhist spiritual retreat in Europe?
It is possible to do a Buddhist spiritual retreat in Europe thanks to various reception centers. The site bouddhisme-france.org offers a directory of Buddhist associations, study centers and congregations in Europe. There is, for example, the Plum Village in Thénac (22) founded by the master Thich Nhat Hanh, the Union Bouddhiste de Europe at the Grande Pagode in Paris, the Tibetan Buddhist retreat center of Saint-Léon-sur-Vérèze ( 24)…
Good in his body, good in his head!
How to do a spiritual retreat at home?
If you want to take a break and take some time to think, it is better to do it by leaving your home. “It’s quite contradictory to have a spiritual retreat at home. Retirement is meant to break away from everyday life. Jesus withdrew into the desert where there were no solicitations“, recalls Clémentine Rousseau-Lubin. Staying at home is therefore not the best option for fully experiencing this moment.