In May 2014, Columbia Theological Seminary’s Lifelong Learning Certificate in Spiritual Formation program is offering two contemplative retreats: one for men and one for women. Both retreats will take place in Cullman, AL — the women's retreat at Sacred Heart Convent, and the men's retreat at St. Bernard's Monastery. Here, Carl McColman — facilitator of the men's retreat — offers a few thoughts about this event.
The word "retreat" is one of those words that I think doesn't always sit well with men. After all, if an army retreats, that means it's losing the battle! But of course, a spiritual retreat has a different meaning. A spiritual retreat is related to Sabbath: a time of seclusion, privacy, and withdrawal. Indeed, a retreat can serve a year the same way the Sabbath serves a week: as a special time, given to God, for the purpose of rejuvenation, spiritual refreshment, and rest.
It is in this spirit that our gathering of men will retreat to St. Bernard's Monastery in Cullman, AL. Because we will be staying at a monastery, rather than the seminary or a conference center, our focus will be on prayer, personal reflection, and quiet time. We will have time to gather as a group each day, but our emphasis will be on relaxation, rest, and tending to the quiet presence of God that the silence of the monastery can help to reveal.
If you've made a retreat at a monastery, you know how peaceful and prayerful such a time can be. But if this will be your first time staying at a monastery, this retreat is ideal, since we will take time to reflect on the unique characteristics of monastic life and how it can speak to all Christians — including those of us who live ordinary lives in the "real world."
Saint Benedict described a monastery as a “school for the Lord’s service.” Medieval Cistercian monks described the monastery as a “school of charity.” Both of these definitions can help us to discover the unique gifts (charisms) of monasteries, even for those who are not called to become monks. Monasteries are intentional communities devoted to prayer, contemplation, and the gospel; and because hospitality has always been a part of the monastic way, they are ideal settings for non-monastics to explore the heart of Christian spirituality. Our retreat schedule includes a balance of prayer, silent time, presentations, and group discussion.
This retreat is suitable for both clergy and laymen, of all denominations and ages. With an emphasis on the actual practice of silent prayer embedded in the monks' daily round of chanted psalms and prayers, this experiential retreat offers participants the chance to seek God's still small voice and to “be still and now God” in a supportive communal setting.
Facilitator Carl McColman is a popular retreat leader and the author of The Big Book of Christian Mysticism and Answering the Contemplative Call. While participation in this retreat counts toward the completion of the CTS Certificate in Spiritual Formation, anyone is welcome to attend the retreat. For more information, please contact Columbia Theological Seminary’s Center for Lifelong Learning.