What are retreats in the street?

Dear friends,

„Practise at seeing and listening respectfully“ are called retreats of ten days which we, the ‚Religious Sisters and Brothers Against Exclusion‘ (Berlin) offer for everybody under the name „Street Retreats“.

With this kind of retreat a special attentiveness is given to the place where the individual feels particularly moved internally. The thorn shrub, where Moses during his everyday life met God in a fire (love) which burned but did not burn up, is an example for it (Exodus 3). When the time for it arrives, we will also not overlook the depressed, unpleasant or weak spots in us and in society. There is often the chance of a greater scope for the lives of individuals and communities.

With his call God can wait for the individual at quite different places: among drug addicts, in a labour office or a mosque, at a monument, a river bank, or elsewhere – calling us there to approach life anew.

Simple accommodation, a lot of free time, etc. make it easier to set out praying, to find places of a personal encounter with God, and then to stay there or to go there again.

These retreats are not social courses, but we let ourselves go into ‚time and space‘, i.e. into God’s presence, where he wants to give himself to us. We offer these days, in which (mostly) two small groups of maximal five participants are in each case directed by a woman and a man.

To Practice at Looking and Listening Respectfully

The group of ‚Religious Sisters and Brothers Against Exclusion‘ offers retreat courses of „looking and listening respectfully“. The participants live in simple accommodation. During the day they go attentively through the city, looking for places where they notice that their interests, their feelings, their longings are addressed. There they stay and take off, at least internally, their shoes and practice attention: They meditate, pray, try not to flee from their fears, and become responsive.

Take Off One’s Shoes – this picture is taken from a Biblical story in the Book Exodus:

In the midst of his everyday life Moses, a goatherd in the desert Sinai, saw something unusual – a thorn shrub was burning, but did not burn up. He became curious and wanted to see the happening at close range. He ran to the thorn shrub.

There he heard a voice which said to him: Take off your shoes! You stand on holy ground, because Life – the prime longing, the fundamental vitality, the things not known to you -because God wants to talk with you here. Moses heard now anew about the enslavement of his people and by that also of his own depressed need, and that an important task was expected of him.

Moses resisted and asked:
What is your name? He got an answer.
He continued to resist the mission intended for him.
But then he set out.

To take off one’s shoes is a picture for the readiness to listen with respect. The – by boots also defensive – distance of shoes is put down, also the self-conceit to have the better or more beautiful shoes. The often thorny reality is touched with naked feet, in order to look there for one’s own injuries and naughty tricks, the longings of oneself and of other people, and the ways to a fulfilled life.

If I take off my shoes, I will begin to enter – in the midst of the world of opinions and prejudices – into ignorance again, I will get more respect for the reality and for the humans in it – also for my own past and future life. Briefly: I will listen, see, smell, grope in a new way at the place of attention, which has become holy.

The participants are looking in the city for a place, e.g. among homeless people or drug addicts, in a Turkish cafe or in a mosque/church, at the nazi execution place in Berlin-Plötzensee or the Soviet monument in Berlin-Treptow, where they feel curiosity; they take off their shoes and begin with a time of attention. They become aware of the environment and of their own feelings therein, and divine slowly why they have „chosen“ just this place. Perhaps the participant avoided up till now humans or questions at this place. Prejudices, injuries, and fears in one’s life history or many other things can be reasons that my heart led me there. Sometimes tears will come, or other feelings will arise. Then it is good to stay at this place, and to come soon back to it, and to take off the shoes again.

In the evening the participants come back to their lodging, and after a common meal and service (both prepared by them), they will tell of their ways, their searching, their staying, their slow approach to those places which had been experienced as important and moving for them personally. And they talk also about the discovered difficulties, about their fears, about the thorn shrubs in their lives. By that they are attentively directed spiritually, in order to recognize even more clearly, where God wants to led them.

These courses last ten days. They stand in the tradition of the Spiritual Exercises (exercise = practice), which have got an important impulse in the sixteenth centuary by Ignatius of Loyola. We direct these courses of about ten participants with their quite individual ways in two groups, which can easily be surveyed in each case by a woman and a man of our inviting group. We see in these courses a contribution to overcome one’s personal behaviour of exclusion. It is for us a great joy, if the participants leave behind their purposeful everyday life behavior, and let themselves be led by their inner feeling. Sometimes they will go then through painful stages of self-knowledge. But also fixations will come off suddenly. The joy experienced at this is a light in the midst of everyday events, by which future prospects become visible.