advent: an at-home retreat

One Sunday in early November, I started making plans for Advent. (I’ve learned I have to prepare to prepare or else I lose Advent under a pile of wrapping paper and Christmas cards.) I thought about what I’d like to do to enter into the season this time around. More prayer? More writing? Less rushing? Less buying?

Yes, sure, always, definitely. But how?

The thought that sprung to mind and clung there desperately, yelling to be noticed was this: I want an Advent retreat.

Silence and stillness, rest and reading, prayer and poetry – all the things I love most about Advent are what I love about retreats, too. Time and space apart to encounter the grace of God around me, to recenter and recharge.

But I didn’t even need to glance at my calendar to realize it was a laughable prospect. Every weekend in December was booked months ago with company parties, family celebrations, our own traditions. Sure, it probably signaled a spiritual problem that I couldn’t free up a day away. But the reality of my life right now is that I don’t have time to hole up in a peaceful retreat center and soak up hours of reflection all by myself. I wish, I want. But I don’t have.

In true fashion I moped about this realization for a while. I banged a few pots in the kitchen, got cross with the boys, started stealing joy out of the corners of our day. And then it hit me: why not have an Advent retreat at home? If I simply stretched out a retreat over the whole season, I had all the time and space I needed. As long as I did only one small thing each day.

So I sat down and made a list of all the practices and activities I love about retreats. Some were self-care: take a walk, take a nap, journal. Some were spiritual: do centering prayer, go to Mass, reflect on Scripture. Some were simple: light a candle, listen to music, breathe deeply. And some were just laughable: go to sleep, do no housework, enjoy a meal that someone else cooked.

I wrote each activity on a piece of paper and placed them into a bowl. I decided I’d pull one out on each night of Advent, since a few require a bit of preparation to make possible. However the Spirit guided my retreat practice, I’d go with the flow. Even if it meant dragging my kids to daily Mass or working a walk into a bitter cold December day. Advent’s about openness, about preparing mindfully but remaining open to God’s surprises. And I could jump in, one day at a time.


Late last night I pulled out the first purple slip of paper. And laughed out loud. Because my retreat will be starting with tonight’s dinner being prepared by my husband. (Who only half-grudingly declared that he was going to start his own Advent retreat of having his feet rubbed every night, so long as we were shoving our spiritual practices onto other people.)

So here we go. Advent’s here, and I’m retreating. In the mess of my home, in the corners of my calendar.

Care to join me? (Even if your significant other doesn’t cook?)