How Autumn Can Enhance Your Spiritual Retreat

autumn retreat cabin

Shifts between seasons can boost our ability to do spiritual retreat. For instance, in autumn, we experience a natural regrouping; many of us plan as enthusiastically during September as we do in January at the new year. Often, this is a time of assessment on many levels.

Autumn is also a time of fade-out leading to winter dormancy. Those of us who live in climates that turn cold and barren feel a definite urge to fluff up our nests and settle in for longer nights. We sense the biological urge to sleep more hours and the spiritual inclination to curl inward.

Here’s how autumn can enhance your spiritual retreat, whether it’s several days away or a few hours at home.

The dying landscape can inspire you to let go. Those summer flowers are no more. Perhaps a job, relationship, or goal is going through a sort of death in your life. You might watch leaves falling and ask, “Lord, what is falling away from me right now—something that has come to an appropriate time of ending?” A grown child leaving for college or marriage or a job states away—can you allow that falling away to happen? A role you have played, and played well, for years is shifting now—can you let it fall?

The harsher weather can send you to God for shelter. Sometimes it takes a cold, messy rainstorm to reach deep into us and rattle us from our indifference or denial. You’re rushing to get across the parking lot to the retreat house, carrying clothes and books and journals, and the sky opens, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do. Once inside your room, you just fall apart. This has little to do with the storm outside but everything to do with the deep turmoil you’ve been avoiding for weeks. Now that you’ve plunged into the hurt and rage, you finally have an honest prayer for God. In fact, you’re glad the gusting wind and rain are causing so much racket, because that means no one will hear your sobs and raised voice. You can turn to God and be as desperate as you need to be.

Longer nights can lead you into more consistent silence and meditation. This is especially true if you are retreating away from home and have no access to media. When the day ends, and it’s dark early in the evening, you either pray or sleep. Prayer may include reading or journaling or drawing or knitting, but it happens in a kind of closed-in quiet that can grow deep and helpful.

A new quality of air can inspire new thoughts and fresh emotions. Thank God we are physical! That crisp, spicy autumn air works on us directly. The clear sky and sharp horizon—and the saturated colors of trees and grasses—awaken us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. If we give ourselves time to absorb the new light and aromas, we will feel ourselves renewed. We might generate new ideas, new plans, and new hope for how everything will turn out.

I confess that I am biased; autumn has always been my favorite time of year and the season in which my creative gifts thrive best. You might be more of a summer person. But receive whatever this season has to offer. As you reflect on the summer’s activities and your hopes for the months to come, take some time to savor the air, the color, and the soft, early darkness.

About Vinita Hampton Wright 164 Articles
Vinita Hampton Wright has served as senior editor at Loyola Press for 16 years and recently became managing editor of the trade books department. She has written various fiction and non-fiction books, including the novel Dwelling Places with HarperOne, Days of Deepening Friendship and The Art of Spiritual Writing for Loyola Press, and most recently, The St. Teresa of Avila Prayer Book for Paraclete Press. Vinita is a student and practitioner of Ignatian spirituality, and from 2009 to 2015 she blogged at Days of Deepening Friendship. For the past few years, she has co-led small groups through the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises. She lives in Chicago with her husband, three cats, and a dog. In her “spare” time these days, she is working on her next novel.

5 Comments on How Autumn Can Enhance Your Spiritual Retreat

  1. I am also in the southern hemisphere and am feeling a fresh burst of energy and renewed hope. Thanks for reminding me to work with the seasons.

  2. Its the falling leaves that speak to me . All about time. Changing time falling into that last journey we all must make. Letting go. The older we become the more there is. We realise the circle of life. Can thank God if we have the luxury of our own space to retreat into. A going inward time. Reflecting Listening. Norah ❤

  3. Thank you for this reflection on the waning summer and the emergence of autumn (my favorite season also). The past 8 months have been more than a little bit hectic, but I see light at the end of the tunnel because Autumn will allow me to think, to pray, to reflect, to contemplate, to speak to God from my deepest desires and whether He has allowed any of them to come to fruition or is He telling me “not now”. If God’s creation is ebbing for the Winter when it seems all is gone, there’s another Spring on its way too. So my desires may have to ebb to the waiting season of the coming winter, culminating on the birth of Christ, the ultimate creation of God’s Son in a form we can align ourselves with, following the magnificent Way He has shown us. Trust in God’s answers to my prayers, in His time, is hard for me. I’m a doer, and I want to do God’s will, but this coming time is when I have to wait to find out what His will for me is. So prayer to the Holy Spirit for wisdom, and the courage to act on it with the love, mercy, and compassion of Christ, is what I need to do now. Prayer, and more prayer on my part will get me through to the New Year. Thanks Vinita, for bringing my attention to my ultimate salvation and what I need to do to get there. Happy Autumn!

  4. It’s spring here in the Southern Hemisphere. Still cold but the days are growing longer and everything looks fresh and green. You have inspired me to look at the season with new eyes to see what is growing for me as well. Thanks. I confess…I’m also an autumn person. I don’t enjoy the heat!

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