The Los Angeles Times has a recent post titled “‘Wellness tourism’ is big business. Are spiritual retreats a fad or do they provide meaningful benefits?” that explores the business of spiritual retreats.
More stressed-out Americans are seeking out spiritual retreats to decompress, unplug and reset, the Washington Post reports.
Revenue for “wellness tourism” has increased by 14% in recent years, from $494.1 billion in 2013 to $563.2 billion in 2015. According to the Global Wellness Institute, that’s twice as fast as overall tourism expenditures.
Research has shown that there are positive affects from daily meditative practices; “actual changes that take place in the brains of retreat participants, according to a study published in the journal Religion, Brain & Behavior. Preliminary test results — studying 14 Christians who attended a week-long retreat based on Jesuit teachings — showed short-term impact on dopamine and serotonin functions, which are associated with positive emotions.”
The Times article posits the question, “Do you believe spiritual retreats can provide long-lasting and meaningful benefits or does this seem more like a fad to you?” and then offers the response from a wide spectrum of spiritual leaders, including the Rev Amy Pringle of St. George’s Episcopal Church, La Cañada Flintridge, who said;
“Of course retreats have benefits! Retreats are amazing! They’re wonderful! Everyone should do them! (Note that I call them “retreats” rather than “spiritual retreats,” since from my perspective, we religious folks were doing retreats long before the corporate world hijacked the term to use for their life-sucking weekend’s worth of team-building slogans and ropes courses.)”
But she also cautions that not all “retreats” are equal, and that not everyone has your best interests in mind;
“If you’re going to go on retreat, either go to a reputable monastery (Christian, Buddhist or otherwise), which charges a minimal amount and where people who have devoted their lives to this practice live, or do it yourself, with slow time and spiritual reading. Don’t get sucked into the racket run by those who only want your money; go to the folks who genuinely care.”
Another notable response was from Rev. Bryan A. Griem
“I often hear how meditation or doing certain physical postures, or reading poetry, ringing bells, lighting candles, etc. all contribute to changes in brain chemistry. That’s probably true and why churches have utilized these since the beginning, but mood-producing accouterments and meditative techniques will only stir up an appetite requiring the correct divine nourishment. Too often people replace God with “spiritual stuff,” activities that touch their inner being without addressing its purpose or destiny. “I’m not Christian, but I’m spiritual” many people say, which is little better than affirming “I’m alive.” It doesn’t say anything, since we’re all “spiritual””
Americans spent more than half a trillion dollars in 2015 on spiritual tourism. That’s a striking figure and surely evidence that people are seeking meaning, connection, and purpose; supposedly things our churches are meant to provide. It would seem there is an opportunity here for our parishes to become more than worship centers, but something more like spiritual gyms. We need to understand what are the barriers to their seeking that meaning in our churches.
Perhaps it is because most Christian evangelism starts with convincing people of our doctrine. Why do we primarily offer only our devotional life as our entry way? Are there Christian practices other than worship that might be an easier gateway? Could we reorient our churches to being homes to different spiritually-based activities (that people pay for, BTW) that would be a boon to the spiritual life of the believers as well as offering something meaningful and beneficial for the agnostic or spiritual seeker? Maybe entering into faith wouldn’t seem so intimidating if we did. Jesus tells the parable of the sower, but who says the seeds have to be asking people to swallow the wholly grown plant?