I boarded a bus in Washington, DC, complete with wailing children, frustrated parents, and a man be-bopping to the loud music on his earphones for the entire four-hour trip to Atlantic City—where I would change buses to ride another two hours sitting next to Mr. Be-Bop himself.
When you don’t own a car, the bus becomes a regular form of transportation that doesn’t guarantee on-time departure or arrival, clean restrooms, or air conditioning. But it always guarantees an unexpected journey that leads me exactly where I want to be. This time, my destination was a spiritual retreat…budget style.
Choose Your Own Adventure
I’ve had my fair share of budget retreat experiences—everything from a super-sacramental Confirmation retreat to a quirky college retreat where our sleep-deprived minds composed a skit of the last Stations of the Cross to oldies (i.e. Jesus Falls for the Third Time and we break out with “Baby, Baby, I get down on my knees for you…”).
Each of my retreat experiences has offered a rich encounter with the Divine, not to mention a good dose of fun. But since I left college, I’ve had to discover my own retreats on a low-income budget. My thin wallet has guided me on retreats ranging from the basement of an Anglican convent in San Francisco to a snowed-in weekend at a cloistered monastery in Vermont. Through the years, I’ve learned a few tricks of the budget retreat trade:
- Downsize your plans: Can’t afford a 30-Day retreat on St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises ? Try a 3-day weekend instead. There are even short versions of the Ignatian exercises.
- Commuter vs. Resident: Find a nearby retreat center and commute to the retreat rather than staying overnight as a resident.
- Work at the retreat: If you have ever mowed a lawn or cut vegetables, the staff may let you work to pay a portion of your costs.
- Bring your friends: Ask if the retreat center offers group discounts.
- Create your own: sometimes just getting away for a day or overnight—be it a city park or a distant camping ground —can provide you with the space necessary to re-center yourself and open up to God’s presence.
After the Be-Bop
Our lives are filled with “be-bop,” whether we are sitting next to Mr. Be-Bop or not. Each year I take a budget retreat to get away from the noise and regular beat of my life to encounter the Divine in a new way. When I traveled on the bus to this particular retreat, I had just spent the year as an intern dealing with the stressful staccato rhythms of Capitol Hill. I realized on the ride that, not only was I involuntarily being subjected to the heavy rhythms of the music on the earphones of the man next to me, but that my heart had also been ticking to the same frantic tune for some time.
Eventually I got off the bus and entered a silent retreat where I worked in the kitchen to pay a portion of my costs. Here a new beat began to form. As I sliced tomatoes, the beat of my heart slowed. As I mixed salad, I meditated on the fruits of God’s creation. And as I finished my kitchen duties, I took off my apron and took up silent prayer with God.
By the end of my budget retreat, I had found a slower beat to my fast-paced life. And perhaps most importantly, I was back in tune with God. A budget retreat may not be a luxury experience, but you may just find a richer rhythm whose smooth grooves glide you back into the arms of God—exactly where I want to be.