As my car ascended the road leading to the retreat house, tears spilt down my cheeks involuntarily. Were they tears of joy? Sadness? Relief? Fear? All of these feelings and more swirled in my head as I rounded the circular driveway and parked out front. I approached the entrance, quite unsure of what to expect. I had, of course, viewed the website and knew a little about what I was heading into, but being there alone was a big step for me. And as much as I like to talk, the thought of two days of silence was a little daunting!
The first beautiful sign from God that I was in the right place was a vibrant pot of yellow and blue pansies, smiling at me from the front porch. Those were my mommy’s favorite flowers, and when I saw them, I immediately relaxed a bit. I purposefully chose this weekend for a get-away, as it precedes her birthday by a couple of days.
Upon opening the door, I was greeted by a monk. He signed me in, and showed me how the retreat operated, where I would stay for the weekend, and gave me the details on when meals would be served. He was so informative, kind and welcoming. I felt at ease right away. My first stop wasn’t very transcendental; it was a run to the bathroom since it took me over an hour and a half to get there! Once I brought in my belongings and got settled in my room, I was struck by the simplicity of the space. The first thought that came to my mind was how serene and peaceful I felt.
Initially I wanted to curl up and take a rest, but the scenery outside was calling my name…the view from my bedroom window was magnificent!
I walked outside and took a seat on a log bench facing the Shenandoah Mountains. I breathed in deeply to take as much of the fresh air in as I possibly could. Strong winds gusted around me. The clouds began to darken, and I felt a spattering of raindrops. In the distance, thunder rumbled, warning me of the impending storm. I sat a few moments more, still taking in the views.
Moving to a chair on the front porch, I watched some fat, heavy bumble bees buzzing about, bumping into pillars and into the sides of the building. I could hear the sizable raindrops falling fast. The wind began blowing sideways, and I felt the spray from the rain on my ankles and face. Still, I sat for 30 minutes, just listening and absorbing every moment.
Life can be like that storm that blew in out of nowhere. One minute you are going along just enjoying your day and bam! something happens to stop you in your tracks, making you adjust to a trial or situation you weren’t expecting. Many times you get soaked as you find shelter, and other times you are able to weather the storm and find some good in it.
One of the first things I noticed about being in the mountains was how alive I felt. There was something about being away from the grind of the busy life I live that struck me. Sometimes I get so caught up in the daily groove of my routine; sleep, wake up, eat, work, home, time with family, eat, sleep, etc…I adore my family, I just don’t think I make enough time to appreciate how blessed I truly am.
I also get distracted so easily. Conversations, music, TV, social media, chores, errands, to-do lists, and my general day-to-day schedule keeps me really busy most days. This weekend away truly opened my eyes to the need for me to stop and rest. Not just for a couple of minutes, and not with my phone in my hand checking Instagram and Facebook for the latest news and entertainment. I’m talking about honest to goodness R-E-S-T. I must make time to Relax, Escape, be Still, and enjoy Tranquility. This retreat showed me how to do that.
Googling “silent retreat” brought me to the Holy Cross Abbey website. I loved when I read, “All of good will are welcome at Holy Cross Abbey, those of whatever faith, those seeking faith, those not blessed with faith. You will find beauty of many kinds, and you will find peace. We invite you to share for a time the rhythms and stillness of our life. Our retreats are non-directed, individual and monastic in nature.”
One of the most impactful parts of this get-away for me was meal time. All the retreatants dined together, sitting in a U-shaped table arrangement, and there was no conversation during meals. Breakfast was on your own each morning from 7-9 a.m., with cereal, fruit, toast and coffee/tea/juice available. Before lunch and dinner, we stood behind our chairs as a prayer was said to bless the food, and then we walked up to a table and served ourselves before going back to sit and eat. During one meal, soft music played, while the other meals were eaten in quiet. That was very different for me. I heard the clinking of silverware, cups tapping the table, people chewing and savoring their food, but no talking except for the occasional whisper of “please pass the salt, or may I have a napkin?” I loved that when you were finished eating, you cleared you own place, and then re-set it for the next meal using clean dishes and utensils. There was always tea, hot chocolate, coffee, dessert and fruit available.
My favorite spot to be on this retreat was the sun room. I had views of the mountains on two sides and it was such a cozy place to read, reflect and pray. During my two day stay I read two and a half books, plus a few articles and plenty of scripture.
While reading The Way of the Heart by Henri J.M. Nouwen, I was struck by his words. “Solitude is the furnace of transformation.” I had plenty of solitude this weekend and I’m thankful for it!
I was awestruck at the clouds and vibrant blue skies I had the pleasure of seeing this weekend. I walked for hours and was taken aback at how everything jumped out at me. The lone yellow tulip greeting me as I passed a tree; blades of grass dancing in rhythm to the blowing of the wind; insanely radiant rays of sun streaming down to warm my skin; trees swaying in the breeze; cows staring at me as if they wanted to speak something relevant to me…
These are not new sights. I mean I’ve seen them before in my life. Why was I so struck by their beauty? I believe it is because I was actually taking the time to experience them instead of hurriedly passing them by. I heard a birds wings flapping as it flew past me. The cows chewing grass in the field beside me was audible. I literally sat on a bench and watched the clouds slowly roll past me for 36 minutes. I know that much time passed because I went inside for lunch and couldn’t believe I had been out for so long just gazing up at the sky.
I drove home from this retreat today thankful for the time I spent there. Truly relaxing and moving at my own pace, choosing which activities I wanted to participate in, and savoring every moment has done wonders for my spirit. This was such a unique experience and I’m genuinely glad I went. If you would like more information, please check out https://www.virginiatrappists.org/. Maybe a silent retreat is in your future?? Would you consider this type of get-away?
After this weekend, these words have never meant more to me – The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Psalm 19:1