This mini retreat has been put together to help you pause and draw strength from God, during what is often the busiest time of the year. For most of us, Advent is laden with social functions, Kris Kringles, family commitments, decorating, shopping, work demands…and more. We know we should make time for God and enter into the season ‘properly’ – reading an Advent devotional, taking up a penance (for Advent is a ‘mini-Lent’ after all…), praying, and preparing our hearts to receive the Newborn Jesus at Christmas. We know what we ‘should’ be doing, but actually doing it proves to be a challenge!
Often, the trick is to simply start somewhere. Some is better than none. Remember that God can take the little that we have and use it to bring about amazing things. He is not limited by our littleness.
Setting aside time
I ask you to set aside 1 hour or even 30 minutes. For those who have more time to more deeply immerse themselves, you can set the retreat timeframe for 3 hours (you can of course do more if you’re able). You can do this as Advent begins or even once a week for the whole of Advent. A few hours of our time set aside to prepare for the coming of the Christ Child. Time spent you will never regret!
Set a time that will have the least number of distractions and get you at your freshest, e.g., on a weekend when you won’t be contacted by work or during the morning if you’re someone who tends to feel tired in the afternoons. Once you’ve chosen your time put it in your calendar and stick to it, just as you would an important appointment.
- Switch off your phone;
- Switch off other devices or use something like the ‘Off the Grid’ app;
- Choose a comfortable, quiet, private environment. You may like to set up a sacred space or home altar to focus your attention;
- Use a ‘do not disturb’ sign if needed;
- Have a Bible, Rosary beads, journal and pens on hand;
- Have some water handy and you can even make a cuppa before you start.
Now you’re ready!
For the 30 minute – 1 hour retreat
This retreat is divided into 6 parts. You can spend as long as you need for each part. It’s often helpful to have a clock or old-school watch nearby (not a smart device that can turn into a distraction) to gently keep track of the time. The timing is merely a guide however and you may find that some parts need to be longer or shorter for you.
For the 3 hour retreat
This retreat is just like the above — divided into 6 parts and each part takes roughly 30mins. You can follow all the same steps as for the shorter retreat time, just spending more time on each part.
Part 1: Making space
Get into a comfortable position where you’re still able to be alert (i.e., not so comfortable that you might drift off).
Make the Sign of the Cross.
Spend this time simply becoming aware of God’s presence. Notice Him. You may have many thoughts swirling around in your head initially and it may be difficult to focus. This is completely okay. Gradually, your mind and heart will quieten and God will bring you deeper into the silence. No need to do anything – just be still and become more and more aware of Him. Ask the Father to send His Holy Spirit into the space and into your heart and mind. Be filled.
Part 2: Scripture readings
Take your time reading the following passages.
Revelation 3: 20
Read slowly, letting every single word penetrate your heart, for God does not waste a single word in Scripture. Read them one or two more times, letting yourself sink into the Word which is living and active.
Picture the scene in Luke’s Gospel passage. Let the series of events unfold in your imagination, seeing it like you would watch a movie. Try to picture Mary’s feet as she goes with haste to the hill country. Are they bare or in sandals? Dusty? Strong? Moving quickly? Picture Elizabeth’s eyes as she sees Mary. Are they joyful? Twinkling? Teary? Knowing? Now move to Mary’s lips and she sings the Magnificat. They might appear beautiful, soft, smiling, delicately moving as she forms the words of the song of her heart.
Continue to pick out small parts of the scenes from the Gospel. Hone in on them and imagine each small detail. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you. The scenes will gradually become more alive.
Reflect on the details not included in the Bible. Of course, we only know for certain what the Word actually tells us, but it does not hurt to wonder about the other details. How might have Elizabeth received the words of the Magnificat and how did her heart respond? What might have the women talked about during Mary’s 3-month stay? (Poor Zechariah, having lost his ability to speak, had to let the women do the talking…). What might Mary’s role have been in Elizabeth’s final stages of pregnancy and birth? What wisdom might have Elizabeth, being the older cousin, passed onto Mary? How might have they encouraged each other to trust in God?
Part 3: Journalling
What has struck you from the Scripture passages? What words/verses/phrases have stood out? What has God been saying to you? Take some time to receive God’s personal message for you. Write it down. Write about your reflections on these Scriptures and/or have some general journalling time. You might like to write as if you are writing a letter to Jesus, beginning with ‘Dear Jesus…’
Part 4: Reflection
The following questions may help you dive deeper into your experience of God’s presence and His word. Take your time to ponder them. You may like to write down your responses.
- How do I feel having taken the time to put aside distractions and be in God’s presence? What effect does it have on me?
- Only shortly after Mary’s ‘yes’ to God at the Annunciation, she sets off to be with her cousin during her time of need. Mary is able to leave everything and respond to God’s call. Would I be able to do the same? Would I drop everything in response to a firm prompting of the Holy Spirit? (Keeping in mind God doesn’t ask us to forgo the responsibilities of our vocation i.e., to leave our spouse and children!). If not, what is holding me back? Are there things I need to detach from in order to be able to live with abandonment to God’s will? What might He be inviting me to let go of or say ‘no’ to?
- Elizabeth welcomes Mary into her home and in turn welcomes Jesus too. Do I welcome Jesus into my life? How might He be trying to visit me? Is there a particular friend or family member who I need to welcome into my life?
- Elizabeth accepts help and fellowship from Mary, her younger, less-experienced cousin – Mary, who has fallen pregnant seemingly much more easily than Elizabeth (who has had to endure years of barrenness prior to this point) and who, most unconventionally, is unmarried. Elizabeth could have resisted help from Mary who is lesser (in the world’s eyes perhaps) than her but she does not. Nor is she jealous or judgmental of Mary’s situation. She instead humbly recognises Mary as the Mother of her Lord! What can I learn from Elizabeth’s welcome of her visitor and recognition of the Lord? How can Elizabeth teach me to accept the help that the Lord is sending? How can she teach me to welcome Mary and Jesus into my home and heart?
- Pregnancy is a unique and extraordinary miracle (however ‘ordinary’ it may seem) in which one welcomes new life into one’s very being. It is something more passive than active – the mother consents to this new life and then surrenders to the changes that take place in her body, her mind, and her identity, as well as the changes taking place in the new life itself. This is something that Mary and Elizabeth understood, both having been pregnant in miraculous circumstances. How much more did they, Mary especially, know how to welcome the Holy Trinity into their hearts? How can I welcome Jesus and the new life of His Spirit in me? Is my heart ready? Jesus wants to be reborn in the lowly manger of my heart as I participate in the Advent and Christmas liturgies – will I welcome Him?
Part 5: Letting it all sink in
We have covered a lot so far. Now is the time to let things sink in and treasure in your heart whatever insights you have received. You may simply spend some time in silence as you do this, or you may like to go for a walk in nature. You may find it helping to pray a Rosary during this time or you might like to do something creative like painting or playing music, letting the Holy Spirit guide you and allowing God’s voice to penetrate your heart more and more deeply.
Part 6: Thanksgiving
Spend some time thanking God for the people, places and things in your life that He has blessed you with. Writing them down is sometimes helpful. What are you thankful for about this retreat? Reflect on this and/or write that down too. Thank God for what He has said to you during this time. If you’re not sure, this is okay – sometimes it takes a few days or weeks to receive clarity about what it is that He is saying. You may feel prompted to make some resolutions or changes to your life – write these down too so that you won’t forget.
Gently end your retreat with the Sign of the Cross.