Why a Retreat Is Not an Escape

On March 13, 2020, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz declared a peacetime state of emergency as the first cases of COVID-19 appeared here. Within days, the public schools were closed for two weeks. Within weeks, we went into lockdown. That all occurred less than two years ago, though it seems like a whole lot longer. Three school years have been impacted by this pandemic, Kindergarten, First Grade, and Second Grade for my daughter, Eleanor. She’s spent more time learning online than in person. We’ve endured at least five surges, depending on who is counting. While this latest one has passed, Michael Osterholm, whose expertise and counsel many of us have come to count on, keeps reminding us, “We are not done with this virus. This virus is not done with us.”  

While some of us are ready to burn our masks, others are simply burnt-out. Teachers, doctors, nurses, and pastors are leaving their professions or fervently looking for new jobs. Their surge capacity is long since depleted; they have been languishing far too long. The institutions in which they carry out their service to humanity have struggled for decades, and it feels like the breaking point is on the horizon. Personally, I want to cry “UNCLE” to someone or something, to a power greater than all of us. Do you remember that game we played as kids? Someone would twist our arm or threaten us in some way and we would hold on until we dared go no farther, yelling or whimpering, “UNCLE!” No longer able to endure, we quit. 

In a similar vein, I sometimes simply want to escape. Say goodbye to the chaos. To the constant battering ram of COVID. To the doom and gloom of national and international politics. Tune it all out. Turn it off. Binge watch a new series on HBO or Netflix. Get myself a pair of virtual reality goggles that will take me to a warm beach where someone hands me a cocktail. Place my mind on anything entertaining and distracting for a little while. 

Beyond these impulses, escapism takes worrisome forms. When it does, it erodes wellbeing and diminishes physical, mental, and spiritual health. Overconsumption of alcohol and other types of substance abuse: these escapes can hinder one’s capacity to overcome challenges or even face reality. 

When I pause and listen to myself, I recognize that what I need is a retreat, not an escape. A retreat is quite distinct from an escape even though the word itself may conjure up images of strategic withdrawal in military battles. Retreating might sound akin to “escaping” a predicament, “avoiding” an onslaught, or “getting away” from danger. But it’s not, at least in this context. 

A retreat is an intentional spiritual practice in which we slow down and seek to reconnect with ourselves, others, nature, and God. We adopt new rhythms—more like our natural biorhythms—for the sake of being restored in body, mind, and spirit. We may meditate and pray, journal and read poetry, hike through the woods and silently spy on cranes as they land on the marsh. We may eat mindfully and slowly savor each sip of early morning coffee.  

All of this ushers us into genuine rest, which is neither an escape from reality nor a cessation of all activity but rather a profound reorientation of our hearts and minds. Put another way, when we retreat, we enter into what Jews and Christians describe as Sabbath rest. In Sabbath rest, as Professor Travis West writes, “we cease from work to remind ourselves that ‘I am not what I do.’ We cease from buying and consuming in order to remember that ‘I am not what I have.’ And we cease from social media and from conforming to what we think society says we should be to remember that ‘I am not what people say about me.’”  

There is far more to say about what retreating is and isn’t, so stay tuned for upcoming blogs that offer guidance, clarity, and tools for your own journey. We hope you will find ways to retreat and therefore to rest wherever you are. And we invite you to consider booking your own private retreat, a day-long staff retreat, or even an extended retreat at Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center. We are offering 25 retreat days at 25 percent off our normal rates. See below and give us a call to find out more.   

Reverend Theresa F. Latini is executive director of Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA).


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Due to a growing set of unmet needs from a persisting pandemic and an unrelenting winter, we recognize now more than ever an urgency to retreat. Healthcare workers, social workers, and teachers need time away to rest and care for themselves. Directors and supervisors want to collaborate and relax with their staff for a day. Families are curious about new ways to spend time together in nature. Clergy, therapists, and spiritual directors crave silence, stillness, and solitude.

Groups and individuals who book now for a retreat between February 28 and March 24 will receive 25% off their day retreat or overnight stay. Once you arrive, let our accommodation rooms, meal service, and indoor and outdoor amenities contribute to your restoration.

If you or someone you know could benefit from the gift of rest, inquire now by calling 952.469.2175 or by visiting this page.


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