I’ve never read a book by Ruth Haley Barton that didn’t speak to my heart, and this is no exception. Being a teacher of and on retreats, and a regular retreatant myself, I was looking forward to reading this small but helpful guide to the how’s and why’s of making a retreat.
For many Christians, especially Protestants, retreats are foreign, something made by Roman Catholics or disguised as preaching or evangelistic events. Those are certainly legitimate and useful, but Barton’s subtitle, “The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God” hits the nail on the head of what a retreat should be.
The book is divided into four sections, introducing the concept of true retreat, preparing ourselves for retreat, what to undertake during retreat, and how we move back into day-to-day living from retreat. Each of the twelve chapters offers practical assistance to the retreatant in terms of preparation and execution of the retreat. Two appendices are offered for guidelines for fixed-hour prayers and planning a retreat.
For the person considering a retreat but not sure where to start, this book is a good place to start. It helps us know ourselves as individual followers of Jesus as well as giving us tools for introspection when gearing up for a retreat and actually being away. Among the key learnings, of which there are many, is to understand oneself as being able to be off-limits to anyone but God during that time, that none of us is indispensable. Needing to be connected, 24/7, is often one of the biggest hurdles to an effective retreat, and Barton reminds the reader that such disordered attachments are not helpful to connecting fully with God.
Retreat is one of the main gateways to true spiritual freedom. This book is a helpful guide in aiding us to achieve the true spiritual freedom the Lord seeks for us.
Ruth Haley Barton, Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away With God (IVP, 2018), ISBN 978-0-8308-4646-7. I am grateful to Martin at Parasource for the desk copy he provided for me. The book is available at most Christian retail outlets, including the Tyndale Bookstore in Toronto.