Jim Bell is a Spirited Life participant who serves as pastor of Rosemary UMC in Roanoke Rapids, N.C. For the past six years, he has taken a day away every three months for an individual spiritual retreat. Jim graciously took the time to answer my questions about this practice.
JIM: They include silent listening, scripture reading, reflection, spiritual reading, walking and praying, lunch – usually in silence – journaling, and assessment of my priorities for the next three months.
I have gone on these retreats at retreat centers – like Avila Retreat Center located north of Durham – camps, public libraries and college libraries.
Why do you take regular retreats? What’s your motivation?
JIM: I realize that my spiritual well-being is essential to my life as a follower of Christ and as a pastor. I do this to have an intentional time of listening to God. In 30 minutes of silent listening on a retreat, I sense God’s presence and direction more powerfully and clearly than in most of my daily prayers. It is very helpful to me to travel to a location besides my home or study.
I go on retreat to refocus my spiritual life and to refocus on God’s priorities for my ministry. It is easy for me to get caught up in the day-to-day routines and demands of ministry and lose sight of the big picture. Without fail, I depart from each retreat renewed, refreshed, energized and grateful for the opportunity to spend time with God.
How are you able to get away amidst the ongoing demands of your work?
JIM: I make this a priority for me. I am intentional about scheduling these retreats months in advance. Sometimes I have to adjust. When a pastoral emergency occurred and I couldn’t reschedule the retreat, I went on retreat for half a day.
Do you have a favorite memory from your spiritual retreats?
JIM: In May one year I went on retreat to a colleague’s vacation home on Lake Gaston. It was a couple of months following my mother’s death. She had struggled with vascular dementia for eight years. Helping to care for her during that time was a privilege for me, but it was also exhausting.
On the retreat these words from Psalm 23, “He restoreth my soul,” and “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me,” echoed in my soul. I reread Henri Nouwen’s book, In Memoriam, a personal account of spirituality and grief that he authored after his mother’s death. To read it and let it soak into my heart in the beautiful solitude of the lake was a profound healing experience for me.
Are there any resources on spiritual retreats that you recommend?
JIM: Two books that have helped me the most in shaping these retreats are A Guide to Retreat for All God’s Shepherds by Rueben P. Job, and Time Away – A Guide for Personal Retreat by Ben Campbell Johnson and Paul H. Lang.
Thanks, Jim, for sharing with us about this important piece of your life and ministry.