Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: INVITATION TO RETREAT by Ruth Haley Barton

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.

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Encouragement From The Word

Let go of your concerns!

Last night, my small group was talking about the disciplines of solitude and silence. For many Christ-followers, these can be really challenging – perhaps more so today than in any other era. Why? Because we have so much more to stimulate – and over-stimulate – us all the time. What might seem the easiest of spiritual disciplines can be the most difficult.

The thought of even a half-day silent retreat scares many of us half to death, because, if we’re honest, we have a certain addiction to our external stimuli. And, as with most addictions, we don’t really know it’s there until we are deprived.

As Ruth Haley Barton has written, “Silence deepens our experience of solitude, because in silence we choose to unplug not only from the constant stimulation of life in the company of others but also from our own addiction to noise, words, and activity. It creates a space for listening to the knowings that go beyond words…. The most essential question in solitude is: How have I been wanting to be with God, and how has God been wanting to be with me?” (Sacred Rhythms)

Today, instead of giving you more to read, I want to encourage you to take the next few minutes in silence, by yourself – just you and God. Sit comfortably, with your feet on the floor, palms up to indicate your openness to receive from the Lord. Pay attention to your breathing; slow it down. Close your eyes. Express your deepest longing to God. Take as long as you can, free from external visual or aural stimuli, in the presence of your Creator who loves you.

Let go of your concerns!

    Then you will know that I am God.

        I rule the nations.

        I rule the earth.” (Psalm 46.10, God’s Word Translation)

Encouragement From The Word

What do you want Jesus to do for you?

At St. Paul’s, Nobleton, we have a small group discussing a video series by Ruth Haley Barton entitled Sacred Rhythms, based on her book of the same title.  In lastBlind Bartimaeus Mark 10:46-52 night’s introductory study, we looked at the story of Bartimaeus in Mark 10.46-52.  In it, Jesus asks a deeply probing question:  “What do you want me to do for you?” (v. 51).

Most of the time, when we read Scripture, we read it to gather information.  Yet we can read Scripture to shape our lives.  As I’ve been known to say, information fills the mind, but formation shapes the person.  We can read the story of Bartimaeus to learn about the plight of the blind in the first century, and we can read it to place ourselves in the story, even opening ourselves to have Jesus ask us, “What do you want me to do for you?

Have you ever considered that?  Have you ever opened yourself to express your deepest desires to Jesus?

Because Jesus is God, he already knows our deepest desires, but there is something powerful, something intimate, about expressing them ourselves.  It’s like telling our spouse what we want to experience sexually – it’s that intimate, and arguably more so.

Perhaps that can be, today, your entry point into a more intimate relationship with the Lord.  Sit quietly as you ponder what you most want from the Lord.  Take time to tell him your deepest desires.  Allow yourself to be shaped by the Holy Spirit as you express them.

Why not do it right now?