The Unsheltered Heart: An At-Home Advent Retreat by Ronald Patrick Raab, C.S.C. (Ave Maria Press, 2010)
At first glance, the title of this book is not the most enticing approach to a retreat: Does one not enter into a retreat with the purpose of finding calm and peace? Don’t we expect the results of reflection to be direction, comfort, protection, even answers from God? Shelter from heartbreak is the very thing we seek when approaching God.
Father Ronald Raab, C.S.C., works from the premise that the slings and arrows, the sufferings of life shut down the heart, cover it, close it to fend off further wounds. This all-too-human response, however, also closes it to love—love of God, love of neighbor. He suggests that through the difficult process of exposing the heart, we can recover our ability to receive the love of Jesus and others, and to give love in return.
This retreat is meant to move during Advent toward the celebration of complete Love revealed in the Incarnation, so that we might hope to obtain authentic direction, comfort, protection, and answers from God by assuming this intentional place of vulnerability.
Raab presents a workable structure. He sources the retreat in scripture and exhorts the practitioner to read and reflect upon the Cycle A gospel readings of Advent for a given Sunday. He assists the process with significant imperatives as steps for each day: “Welcome the Stranger Called Silence, Discover Your Story Within the Word, Connect to the Waiting World, Respond to the Cry of the Prophets, and Pray.
He offers assistance through his own thoughts, providing examples for honest self-reflection in light of the gospel. Raab contributes interpretations of the prophets, while offering prompts with specific directions for thought and action. Practically, the format is very clear, with space for writing for each day in response to his guidance. His instructions lend themselves to faithful daily practice and the “pamphlet” sizing makes the entire retreat self-contained and easily managed.