The summer is definitely in full swing here in Seattle and Tom and I are getting ready to head out of town for a retreat. I am browsing through my stacks of books both read and unread to see what I want to take with me. It is a daunting task – so many good books come across my desk each week. How do I or any of us decide?
1. First I like to take a spiritual devotional. At present I am using the New Zealand Book of Prayer. It’s morning and evening prayer are great ways to start and end my retreat days. I might also use the pray-as-you-go.org devotional put out by Jesuit Media Initiatives.
2. I always take a book that scratches where I itch from a spiritual perspective. This time I have three – two by Jan Johnson whose work on spiritual direction and lectio divina is always both practical and insightful. Savoring God’s Word and When the Soul Listens are both books I have used in the past that I love to return to when I need some spiritual discernment. Margaret Guenther’s Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction is my third choice. Not hard to tell that I am wanting to revisit my contemplative practices and renew my ability to listen to God on this retreat.
3. I like to take something that addresses my ministry focus. This time Imagination First: Unlocking the Power of the Possible by Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon.
4. I also take my bible, my journal, and my spiritual retreat log which is a compilation of all the notes from past retreats. I love to look back over these and sense the thread of God’s direction in my life. I love to savour the scriptures that have spoken to me in the past and ask what God may want to say through them or through other scriptures on this retreat.
Now obviously this is more than anyone can read in two days. But I like to have a good selection because even though I head off on retreat with a sense of the direction God is taking me, the details are not obvious until I spend undistracted retreat time in God’s presence. In the first few hours of retreat I might skim though all the books I have with me anticipating that God will grab my attention through something I read. Then I know which of the books I need to bury myself in for the next couple of days. I love to see how God develops this sometimes taking me down unexpected pathways.
Look back with gratitude, look forward with anticipation has become a mantra for my times away that stirs me to expect new things from God at every step.