The word retreat is used as both a verb and a noun. As a verb, retreat means to pull back as in an action of withdrawing, particularly for reasons of safety, security and well-being. As a noun, retreat refers to a place of refuge, seclusion, or privacy. In all religious traditions, as well as increasingly being adapted to the corporate world, the notion of retreats primarily refers to an individual or group engaging, alone or with others, in a process of rest, renewal, and recreation. Retreats include the component of rest, meaning a withdrawal from and suspension of regular daily activities for the purposes of renewal and recreation. Renewal implies recuperation of energies-physical, emotional, and spiritual-in order to experience a rejuvenation of body, mind, and spirit. Retreats generally embody a withdrawal-and-return motif. Retreating, in this sense, is the change of pace that enables an individual immersed in solitude and silence or with others in a community atmosphere to experience restoration or revitalization of creativity and purpose through various practices, disciplines, meditation, and contemplation. This purposeful withdrawal from workaday life is temporary and leads to a return to daily living with renewed vigor, enthusiasm, and sense of direction. Western religious understandings of the notion of retreats have their source in Jewish and Christian conceptions of the Sabbath. Most likely, the Sabbath is a prebiblical notion that holds the day of rest as a literal and metaphorical command of the importance of hallowing the gift of time and releasing men and women from the tyranny of production-oriented tasks to remember to make holy a day of rest, prayer, and fellowship. Therefore, Sabbath celebrated in Jewish homes from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset is an illustration of the retreat theme of withdrawal from labor and return to labor after Sabbath.
The B'nai B'rith Youth Organization (BBYO) is an example of the variety of retreat experiences available to Jewish youth. BBYO is the largest Jewish youth organization in the world with over 20,000 members worldwide. A diverse range of opportunities provides Jewish youth with a deeper appreciation of their religion and culture, as well as community service known as the practice of tzedekah.
Observant Muslims-those who practice Islam and follow the teaching of the Koran-similarly to the practice in Jewish households, celebrate the home as the primary venue for faith formation. It is not uncommon for Muslim families in the United States to have a room in the home dedicated as a sacred space where prayer can take place five times a day as believers face Mecca. The two principle elements of Islamic religious practice takes place in the home: prayer and the fast associated with Ramadan, an annual season of prayer, fasting, family unity, and pilgrimage. Beyond the strong influence of the home on the faith formation of children and adolescents, the Muslim day school, Sunday school at the Mosque, Muslim youth camps, and the extensive opportunity to attend Muslim "conferences" are the principle means for deepening the faith for Muslim youth.
Making an annual retreat is a common spiritual practice among vowed religious, clergy, and many laypersons in Catholicism and various other Christian denominations. There are a variety of styles and formats to these retreats. Most people will withdraw from home and go to a retreat or spirituality center to experience this kind of interior renewal. Some retreats are done on an individual basis, whereby the "retreatant" is guided by a spiritual director and follows a certain pattern of spiritual practices for a weekend, 8 days, or 30 days, which is a particular kind of retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. The patterns of prayer and ritual used on a retreat vary greatly and are influenced in both the West and the East by the spiritual legacy of the specific religious tradition as well as the great spiritual masters.
With over 340 ecumenical and interfaith retreat centers in the United States and Canada and the emergence of youth ministry as a vocation and career path, spiritual growth opportunities for children and youth have expanded beyond the traditional Saturday or Sunday religious school, youth camps, or summer vacation faith-based programs found in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
Young people across faith traditions now have extensive options for retreat-type experiences that provide developmentally appropriate, enjoyable, and challenging opportunities to experience supportive communities, explore new relationships with those of like values, broaden perspectives by meeting peers from differing ethnic and faith traditions, and make the connections between faith, service, and justice. The Catholic Church sponsors youth retreats called Kairos and Koinonia. Summer Bible camps and the Solo Cons form annual offerings in various Protestant denominations. Jewish "Midrasha" and "Rites of Passage" retreats, as well as an array of "conferences" in Islam are but a few examples of the scope of retreats that create the occasion for personal, spiritual, religious, and social development.
Retreats are often experienced in the context of a community of persons, including families and faith communities, deciding together to engage in reflection and rejuvenation. Family retreats, often called conferences in Islam, provide focused time for family members to reconnect, spend time relaxing together, talking about serious matters of family life and issues, and share some form of faith-based activity. Other group retreats are specifically designed to respond to interest groups, such as retreats called "Adventures in Nature," "Earth Wisdom," or "Canadian Wilderness Retreats," which are geared to youth and provide opportunity for young people to experience the rugged natural outdoors, build community, share the beauties of creation, and learn about ecological spirituality. There are retreat programs that provide respite for caregivers of chronically or terminally ill children or those without sight or hearing. Such retreats are often free of charge to the children living and dying with tremendous physical and emotional challenges. Teens and young adults often staff such retreat experiences, such as the "Believe in Tomorrow" or the annual retreat for children burn victims, which depend on the volunteerism of adolescents and young adults to share their health and strength with others. Yoga or Zen retreats offer insights into and experience of the spiritual practices associated with Eastern spirituality. These forms of body movement, meditation, silence, and emptying of self appeal to youth seeking access to ways of developing greater emotional and spiritual balance in life. In Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia, boys, following their formal schooling years and prior to beginning a more independent life away from home, live as a Buddhist monk in spiritual retreat for a few months or full year. Traditional Hinduism outline stages that lead to the mature Hindu life (like Buddhism, this is the exclusive domain of males), which includes the initiation time when a male youth lives with his guru for study and prayer. In North America, adaptations of these practices can be found in retreats with an Eastern focus for both young men and women.
The 21st century reveals that many religious as well as holistic health organizations offer the retreat experience online so that one can stay home and still create an opportunity to find rest and recreation through guided meditation and practices aimed at restoring the human spirit.