I spent Lent 1 in the good company of women from a neighbouring diocese on a retreat away from the city focusing on studying Jesus' parables in the Gospels together.
Some retreats I've been on are deliberately held far away from city distractions: on mountaintops or in isolated settings. There's something to be said for this. My attention focuses on the gathering, not whether there's a Starbucks nearby to supplement the institutional coffee provided by the establishment. And Episcopalians are better at retreats than most when it comes to creature comforts. One of my favorite retreats was the one that began with a game of bridge, complete with bridge snacks and bridge drinks. Some of the participants had been learning the game and were keen to practice. Julian was quite astonished to learn of our first activity when I rang her that night. I assured her we got down to bible study the next day.
This weekend's retreat was a good distance from the city and, like many others I've been on, held in a Roman Catholic retreat house. I'm quite sure this and many similar establishments keep going by means of Episcopal retreats and diocesan committees. I don't mind supporting dwindling orders of the Roman Catholic tradition by going infrequently to retreats. Especially when, as was the case this weekend, our group was permitted to use the Chapel to celebrate Eucharist on Sunday morning. We gave a good donation to their capital campaign from our free-will offering.
My room this weekend had an ethernet cable and cable television. Now that is not a common experience. Usually, my room is a cell with a very narrow uncomfortable bed over which a crucifix leans. There's one chair and a small desk that doesn't hold a bible and a lap top open together. There are not quite enough bed clothes to be warm. I am tempted to argue that one prays and meditates better when one is warm and comfortable. Perhaps another time.
But the highlight of this past weekend was the energy and enthusiasm with which the women threw themselves into parable study. On Saturday morning, we worked in groups comparing and interpreting the four extant version of the parable of the Sower and the discussion that followed such hard work was wonderful. Several people said, "Let's do this all afternoon!" But our leaders had sensible ideas that we needed a walk and another focus for our energies. They were right.
So if and when you plan a retreat, plan carefully for different activities that nourish the body, soul, and imaginative spirit over the course of the weekend. And the retreat worship and bible study will be all the better for it.