In this reprint of his 1995 book, Philip Zaleski, a professor of religion, the founding editor of The Best Spiritual Writing series, and co-editor of Prayer: A History, shares this definition: "Retreat is life stripped bare, boiled to the bones, pared to first and final things. In the Christian tradition such uncloaking of self and senses plays an indispensable role in spiritual growth."
Zaleski notes that retreat may lead to divine gifts; it never takes place alone; and it demands special conditions and behavior. He notes that this spiritual practice has a long and noble tradition from Moses in the Sinai wilderness to Jesus in the desert, Antony of the Desert inside a ruined fortress, St. Simeon Stylites atop a 67-foot high pillar, St. John of the Cross in prison, Henry Thoreau beside Walden Pond, to Annie Dillard on the banks of Tinker Creek.
Zaleski is convinced that a retreat is an oasis in time where individuals can put things in perspective, turn inward, and in the words of St. Paul in Ephesians, "be renewed in the spirit." He structures a sample three-day retreat around sacred readings, prayer, journal suggestions, manual labor, and soul-searching. He looks to the everyday spirituality of Brother Lawrence and St. Therese of Lisieux for inspiration. Some of the spiritual themes covered are surrender, thanksgiving, adoration, resurrection, beauty, and hospitality.
Here is a prayer he offers for those who take this journey:
O Lord of Life, fountain of creation,
You breathe and the world begins.
You shape us from clay,
You hold us in your hands.
Guide us on this retreat
As we place ourselves wholly into your loving care.
Give us the wisdom, knowledge, and strength that we seek.
Give us what you will.