Broom Tree Retreat Center


In the First Book of Kings 19: 4-8 we read about a broom tree. The passage goes like this:

Elijah went a day's journey into the desert, until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death saying: "This is enough, O LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers." He lay down and fell asleep under the broom tree, but then an angel touched him and ordered him to get up and eat. Elijah looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water.... He got up, ate, and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.

On the mountain Elijah found a cave where he took shelter. God instructed him to stand outside the cave because He planned to pass by. Then there were three phenomena, all of which one would expect to be a manifestation of God: a strong wind, an earthquake, and fire. But God did not come in those ways; He came in an unexpected way--as "a tiny whispering sound."

Tomorrow I'll be going to the Broom Tree Retreat and Conference Center in Irene, South Dakota where I'll be giving a retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius to a group of men. The dictionary has several definitions for "retreat," and while two of them are positive--a refuge or place of quiet, and time spent in religious retirement--the first definition is quite negative--"to go back or backward; to withdraw." We usually think of "retreat" in terms of a military battle in which one army "retreats" because it is losing. And no doubt life can feel like a losing battle at times. But I see a "retreat" as not so much the admission of defeat as a wise use of time.

Elijah was under attack from Queen Jezebel whose prophets he had just killed. God sent him to Horeb for his safety and the renewal of his strength. When he felt like giving up and surrendering to death, God intervened and fed him physically and spiritually. He left Horeb ready to return to the battle.

The same thing happens today in places like Broom Tree Retreat Center. People come away from the battles of daily life and are strengthened physically and spiritually during a time set aside for rest and prayer. Though this coming retreat is based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius--and "exercise" can be hard and unpleasant work, a real "work-out"--the major work of a retreat is to slow down enough to listen to what God is saying in the depths of one's heart. Usually God speaks, as He did to Elijah, in "a tiny whispering." To listen for and to that "whispering" requires time away from the noise and busyness of our ordinary routine. It means time in quiet and silence. It means slowing down.

That's a "retreat" that everyone can use annually. And it's always a privilege for me to be part of other people's retreat into the silence where God whispers words of love to His beloveds.