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Going deeper in the church year

by
16 September 2016

Bruce Duncan looks at versatile material for the retreatant

Creative Ideas for Seasonal Retreats: Experiencing the seasons of faith
Stephen Spencer
Canterbury Press £24.99 (with CD-ROM)
(978-1-84825-790-0)
Church Times Bookshop £22.50

 

 

GOOD resource materials for retreats are hard to find. In this excellent book, Stephen Spencer, Vice-Principal of the Yorkshire Ministry Course, based at Mirfield, draws on theology, scripture, and traditions of spiritual direction, to provide stimulating suggestions for retreats based on the liturgical year.

These ideas do not apply only to traditional retreats, however. They can be used also to spark the imagination for sermons, Quiet Days, parish weekends, and even, as the author suggests, an extended course of spiritual direction for a group.

Spencer offers a rich variety of approaches. A theme for Advent is based on the 12-step programme of Alcoholics Anonymous, adapted as advocated by Richard Rohr in Breathing Under Water. For Christmastide, the subject is Lamenting and Hoping, drawing on biblical prophetic inspiration. Two ideas offered for the Epiphanytide season focus on glory, one based on John 9 and introducing imaginative contemplation, the other on preparing and celebrating an extended eucharist with a special use of psalms.

The longest chapter is an extended Lenten retreat on “Finding Acceptance”, which looks at the differing temperaments of the disciples of Jesus through the lens of the Enneagram. The Passiontide chapter is designed to complement the Holy Week services, using as a framework the Common Worship: Times and Seasons Lent service “The Way of the Cross”. For Eastertide, the focus is the Christian journey of faith, using James Fowler’s work on the stages of faith, and introducing retreatants to the concept of journaling as an aid to spiritual growth.

Each chapter begins with the biblical and theological basis for the particular retreat suggestion. Spencer’s theological reflection on the ascension draws on William Temple’s writings on the paschal mystery as the secret of the universe. This is followed by practical ways in which Christians can discover or rediscover this universal truth.

The Pentecost section contains three chapters. The first begins with some theological reflections on the Spirit at work in creation, and goes on to suggest a retreat that uses all our human senses to become more aware of the Spirit around and within us. The second looks at ways in which the Spirit is at work in the life of the Church; and the third introduces the Examen, a method of self-examination classically described by St Ignatius Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises.

Finally, for Ordinary Time, there are two retreat ideas, one a meditation on the words and visions of Dame Julian of Norwich, and the other designed to help people grow into an appreciation of silence and contemplative prayer.

Each chapter has suggestions for further reading, and a CD-ROM is included in the book, providing downloadable texts and images.

 

Canon Bruce Duncan is a retired priest and was the Founding Principal of Sarum College.

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