Why Make a Personal Retreat?

An Interview with The Rev. Dr. Sandi Kerner, St. Christopher Camp & Conference Center

Because of COVID-19, many of us are sheltering at home and choosing alternatives to vacations. St. Christopher offers personal retreats, and so to learn more about that option I chatted with the Rev. Dr. Sandi Kerner, who serves as the Program Director and Chaplain at St. Christopher.

Sandi, because of the pandemic, many of us have had to put off vacations, but we’re all feeling stressed and need a break. What’s the difference between a vacation and a personal retreat?

They’re the same in that you go away to a different place and change the channel, but a personal retreat is intentional time to be in a space to be intimate with God; to reflect on scripture, to pray, to rest, to play, to journal, to draw. It’s different from a vacation where you go to see sights or do other things that are wonderful but distracting. This is a time set aside to grow closer to God.

It’s also really helpful to go to a “thin place,” a place where heaven and earth meet, where God’s love, and power is felt – God’s healing power is known. A lot of people come on the grounds (of St. Christopher) and say, “I feel peace.” It happens as soon as they go over that speed bump at the entrance.

I once tried to have a personal retreat at a friend’s beach house, but just couldn’t settle down. So, I ended up heading home.

A beach house is lovely, but again – it goes back to place and one that’s set apart for prayer. Bishop Lawrence was with us last month and he observed that we are much like a monastic community… we pray together “the hours” three times a day in community; we labor together, and we study together. That supports the work of ministry and holds the space for those who come on retreat.

Is spiritual direction a part of a personal retreat?

Usually a retreat for me means having some spiritual direction or accompaniment. You might meet with someone at the beginning and share a little bit about why you’re there. That person listens, might give you a scripture, or something to read and meditate on. And then you might go back to see that person once a day while you’re on retreat. As the Chaplain for the Prayer Center, I offer spiritual direction, but people need to let me know if they want that, so I can make sure I’m available.

How long should a personal retreat be?

You can take just a morning, but it’s really good to go for more than 24 hours. The first 24 hours are mostly spent trying to unplug from all of the stuff in your life – the busyness, the schedule, from what I call “overlapping responsibilities.” Just let it go. Let it go and really focus on God, but it takes most of us at least 24 hours to unplug from all of that.

The other thing that often happens is people come on retreat and they start sleeping – sometimes two naps a day. They’ll sleep for several hours the first day or two. And it’s okay. They have all these intentions to pray and read, reflect and meditate, to do all these heavy spiritual practices and what they need is rest. I usually advise people, “It’s okay to take a nap.” If you sleep through most of your retreat, it’s because you need it. Your body needs that kind of rest. So does your mind, your soul and your spirit.

Often, I find I dream more or I remember my dreams more. And I pay attention to them. Often, they’re significant. They’re telling me something I need to pay attention to.

If you were to prescribe a personal retreat, what would you suggest I do?

If you’re at St. Christopher – come to the prayer services at 8:30 am, 12:30 pm or 5:00 pm. We can check in there for 5-10 minutes. It’s good to observe silence for part, if not all, of the day, and that means really not speaking to others, not checking the phone, not getting on Facebook, not any of that kind of communication. The more silence you observe, I think, the deeper you can go with God. We have all these distractions that keep pulling us out. We get stirred up by all the things that are happening in the world and in our minds and we miss that deeper peace – that unplugging part.

You might take a walk on the beach or to the crab dock. Take a nap, take a break. Do the cross walk (using a booklet created by Kerner where you visit all of the crosses on campus). Paint a prayer stone. You might journal. You might bring a bicycle and just ride.

Recently I encouraged some women who were here on retreat to go down to the beach when the tide is coming in and write in the sand what you want to let go of. Then sit there for a while and watch the tide erase it. Or take a rock, something you’re holding on to that you want to let go of, and just throw it into the sea. The physical acting it out of what God is doing is quite powerful.

This is a time to listen. You might use the time to create, to draw or paint. There’s something about that expression that gets people in touch with what God is saying, with what their inner heart is saying to them. ….. it’s a powerful medium whatever it is you do.

Is there a best time to come?

I would recommend coming Monday – Wednesday. Those are the least expensive times to come. Come on a Monday afternoon, check in, Tuesday come to Morning Prayer, Eucharist at 12:30, receive prayer for healing and maybe meet again for spiritual direction. Then Wednesday would be your final day. That kind of schedule is not quite two full days, but it gives you time to unplug – to be a part of a community, to receive the Eucharist and healing prayer and spiritual direction. It’s usually the quietest time on campus.

And the cost?

It’s $80 per night for a single person. But if someone comes for spiritual direction, I would hope they would make a donation to The Prayer Center. I recently did a day-long retreat for a small group Bible Study and each of those attending gave a $50 donation. I was on board with them all day, meeting with them and guiding their retreat.

Sandi can be reached at skerner@stchristopher.org. To learn more and reserve space for a personal retreat visit https://stchristopher.org/quick-links/personal-retreats/

By Joy Hunter, Editor