There is little doubt we Christians in Alaska tend to burn our candle at both ends. So many of us live an entertainment lifestyle. Binge watching, Facebook and Twitter maintenance, rushing around in our cars, constantly surrounding ourselves with all manner of noise, and on and on. For persons of a spiritual nature, these distractions are like the proverbial little foxes eating the grapes. Sooner or later, it all comes apart. There’s no time left to feed our spiritual side because all the other alluring activities have robbed us of the desire to draw closer to God. These other activities have become an end in themselves.
“We live under a weight of demands, real and imagined, that is debilitating,” psychologist Stephanie Brown writes in a recent New York Post article. “We see an alarming increase in stress-related disorders of all kinds for all ages, beginning with elementary school-age children who are struggling with obesity, depression, anxiety, attention disorders and all kinds of learning disabilities, a list of problems for all ages.”
Continuing, she notes, “In a vicious circle, the exhausting fast pace of life promotes overstimulation and overscheduling, which become chronic stressors that lead to behavioral, mood and attention disorders. We cannot see that we are causing our physical, emotional and behavioral health problems as we try harder to go faster, and then turn to medication to treat the unforeseen consequences.”
As I visit churches and hear pastors sharing Christian thoughts, I rarely, if ever, hear this critical issue addressed with parishioners and guests. It should be. Often Jesus needed to get away, as Mark 1:35 records: “Rising very early before dawn, He left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” Clearly he needed to retreat and did it simply. The root of the word retreat refers to the act of withdrawing. Sometimes we literally need to withdraw from our daily routine to rest and refresh, physically and spiritually.
Retreats can be useful on a group basis, such as a church-sponsored men’s or women’s retreat for a few days to refocus, and possibly to focus on a particular topic. They can offer a time of relationship building where you’re able to get to know people in your congregation on a more personal level. Or it could be a time of shared recreation such as camping, fishing or boating but with a particular spiritual emphasis. Sometimes retreats can be an uncomfortable experience. Carefully check out the speaker and topic to be covered prior to participating in church-sponsored retreats before agreeing to participate.
Alternatively, an individual retreat, where one gets away to a place that offers peace and quiet, can be a rewarding experience. There you can refocus your life in a place where you experience living with just the bare necessities. During a church service several years ago, I heard a pastor describe one such retreat he annually takes when going hunting. With just his Bible, and possibly one spiritual book, he hunkers down in his tent and reconnects with God through prayer, reading, meditating and memorizing Scripture.
Retreat centers or sanctuaries are available where individuals or couples can go to reconnect. There are a number of these special places in Alaska. One such place in Anchorage is the Holy Spirit Center on the Hillside. The center’s clergy support individual, couple or group retreats at the beautiful campus.
Many other church organizations offer camps or other facilities as venues for spiritual retreats for individuals, couples or groups. They can easily be found with a web search.
Another method of gaining a retreat is going camping in places where others do not particularly go for activities such as ATV riding, snowmachining, fishing or the like. The noise and hubbub of such activities can interrupt the purposes of a retreat. One solution might be renting a U.S. Forest Service cabin for a day or two to get away. For example, the Chugach National Forest offers 40 cabins for rent at modest fees, and most are suitable for individual retreats.
It’s important to plan your retreat, even if it is only for one day. A well-designed website I discovered has the essentials to help you design a one-day retreat, which could be expanded to multiple days. It can be found at retreatday.com. There are a multitude of ideas on the internet about building personal spiritual retreats. Googling a combination of words such as “planning personal spiritual retreat” can yield some really good ideas to consider.
In the journal Ministry, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor named Dan McLafferty describes his own experiences with spiritual retreats in an article titled “Personal spiritual retreat: 24 hours with God.” He describes a harried church life, being on the run and neglecting his children to do it all. When he began to take 24-hour spiritual retreats, he discovered the solutions a retreat can bring to a lacking spiritual life. His article provides a complete template to prepare for and accomplish such a retreat that is suitable for anyone, regardless of their faith.
Sometimes one’s spiritual life can be enhanced by taking a substantive break from social media or the internet altogether. Outside Magazine published Grist blogger David Roberts’ account of his experience with unplugging, for the most part, for an entire year titled “Reboot or Die Trying” and the rewards he reaped. A careful read reveals clear and parallel takeaways for spiritual people addicted to the internet and increasingly draining social media allure.
Monastics such as the desert fathers and desert mothers were involved in longer-term forms of spiritual retreat as a means of obtaining a clearer vision of God. Alaska is full of opportunities to retreat and rebuild connections with God. Many of us could benefit from a spiritual retreat.
Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, Church Visits, at adn.com/churchvisits.
About the Author
Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who has been visiting Anchorage and other local area churches for over 15 years. Go to his website, churchvisits.com, or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/churchvisits or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.