Jeannette L. Angell’s All Ground Is Holy offers a practical introduction to Christian retreat. As I prepare to make a weekend retreat in Kentucky, I share her observations in outline.
According to Angell, a retreat focuses on “learning to pray, learning how to be closer to God, examining the nature of one’s relationship with God” and “to find a little distance, a little perspective, on one’s life; to review it once again and decide where its true values lie” (16). She later adds that “[t]here is no failure on retreat….There is simply the individual and God, and a mysterious something which happens between them” (18).
Next, Angell discusses stillness, directing her readers to the call of Scripture: “Be still and know that I am God.” Silence allow us Marthas “a place and space to be Mary, to chose that ‘better part,’ to allow ourselves to be still” (22). The silence of a retreat allows us a chance to simply “be” and remember that we are not in control (25).
To go on retreat means facing whatever it is that God chooses for one to face during that time.
And that is the crux of the matter: it is God’s choice. God will place the right person, the right prayer, the right reading, the right address in front of each retreatant (26).
Silence and stillness allow us, then, to get to the crux of the matter.
Chapter 2 offers a list of “essential elements” for retreat. They are
- Comfortable clothes
- Light reading—biographies of saints, for example
- Familiarity with the liturgies offered on retreat
- A framework for openness
- Readiness to listen to addresses given by retreat leaders
Next, Angell turns to prayer and prayer aids, discussing the options available for retreatants.
- The Jesus Prayer
- “The first thing that you will notice about the figures in the icon is their eyes: they are large and luminous, shining with a glowing inner light. This is not accidental; they have seen the glory of God. The mouth and nose are proportionately smaller, for living in the Kingdom has lessened the need for sensual satisfactions. Nearly all figures in icons are facing forward” (47).
And she offers us four categories of prayer to be mindful of while on retreat: adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication. She advises that prayer involves deep “remembrance. Remembering who we are before God. Remembering who we are in the world. Remembering our stories and our histories and our goals and our needs” (50).
The book concludes with brief chapters on spiritual direction, journaling, and retreat formats.
She includes three helpful appendices: a sample retreat schedule, a collection of prayers, and a list of retreat houses throughout the United States. The collection of prayers should prove especially useful during retreat itself, while the rest of the book prepares us for the retreat ahead of time.