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Ecclesiastes 3

For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
…a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Introduction to Retreat at Home

During these testing times many of us have longed to be led to the still waters and have our souls restored (Psalm 23). This Retreat at Home is an attempt to offer that opportunity to receive spiritual nourishment and nurture. Here is four weeks’ worth of content following the themes of the four seasons. Take your time to engage with as much or as little as you choose. You can either plan to look at a different aspect each day of the week, or read it all at one sitting and then dip into the parts which you feel moved to return to during that week. You may wish to supplement this R@H with a daily discipline of prayer from some other source; a favourite prayer book or prayasyougo.org for example.

Many years ago I read a book by Mark Buchanan called Spiritual Rhythm. The book encouraged the reader to tend their heart in whatever spiritual season they were living through. The invitation is to consider paying attention to your emotional and spiritual health and mood, and then learn to live in rhythm with it. Mark teaches us to respond to the weather of the heart, whether we are flourishing and fruitful or withering and returning to the ground. In comparing spiritual changes to the seasons of the year, Mark shows us what to expect from each season and how embracing those rhythms allows our spiritual lives to prosper (thrive rather than just survive). Inspiration from this book is the reason I have chosen to use the seasons framework.

Summary of the Seasons

Winter: typically, a time of bereavement, long-term illness, or life difficulties.

Key Note: Mournful: a time of darkness, when we might feel alone, everything looks dead and we can feel dead spiritually. In the depths of the winter of our hearts God waits with us, prunes us, breaks our self-dependency, and deepens our God-dependency. Winter is a time of fresh encounter with the God who raises the dead.

Spring: typically, a time of new beginnings and possibilities.

Key Note: Hope: getting ready for what is to come: the ground softens, the birds return, daylight lengthens. This season of the heart is a time of joy after sadness, light after dark, cleaning the debris left by Winter, and delight in new creation. Emotional and spiritual renewal come with the recognition that God was always there throughout the Winter but may have been hidden from sight.

Summer: typically, a time of contentment. Things are going well.

Key Note: Satisfaction: delighting in the present moment. A time for fun and enjoyment and for rest and fruitfulness. In the Summer of the heart we enjoy the fruits of our labours after the planting of Spring, taking time to travel somewhere different, and resting more deeply than during the rest of the year. Things flow in this season; you feel joy, your prayer life works, there is lightness of heart, troubles can be overcome, and everything feels possible.

Autumn: typically, a season where you reap the rewards of all you have done, and reflect on changes which you will make for the next year.

Key Note: Joy (as in fulfilment) and challenge (which feels possible): reaping what’s been sown, storing what’s been reaped, and preparing for next year’s planting, and Winter. The heart in Autumn is filled with anticipation. This is closely related to how we have stewarded the other seasons “you only get out what you put in”. Autumn of the heart can be a time of growing self-awareness and development (deepening of Spiritual life perhaps).

We begin with the season of Winter, because I suggest that much of our world is in this season as we navigate this Aftermath of the Pandemic and endeavour to build a new creation. Also, in Winter we stay indoors more and reflect on the future.

I hope that as you pray and reflect on each week’s retreat provision you will start to recognise various times in your life for the season your heart was in, recognising with hindsight where God was and is throughout your life.

If you find there are things which come up for you and you would like to discuss, I would be delighted to chat via the telephone, email or to meet at a distance (if that is possible).

With every blessing as you enter into this month, I pray you will find your souls refreshed.

Rev Rona, revrona@gmail.com, 01483 572207

Summary and practicalities

Each week you will receive a variety of offerings, which might include a Reading, a Story, a Reflection, a Spiritual Exercise, Prayers or relevant hymns. There is no right way to do this, so perhaps take your time to work out your own style. However, my suggestion (no more than a suggestion!) is that you read everything slowly, as if you were eating a delicious meal and that you leave time between the exercises, as if you are savouring your food. The intention is then to listen to God’s voice as you go about your daily life whilst still in a retreat. You might also like to take some time each evening to sit quietly, in stillness for 10 minutes or so, and then if you feel like it, to write some reflections.

From the first Sunday in August there will be an outdoor reflection space in St John’s Churchyard (between the Church and the Centre) which may help to focus some thoughts, encourage a quiet moment, or offer a different way to approach God. There will be signs up to help guide your thoughts, Bible verses, the Lord’s prayer and of course the beauty of God’s creation to inspire your thoughts and prayers. It may be a useful space to come and explore as part of this Retreat at Home.