Part of me wants to give you a play-by-play of all the wonderful things I did and thought and saw and wrote while I was away on my solitary retreat. That part of me wants to shout it from the rooftops so that you too will realize how wonderful and truly life-giving a silent retreat can be.
But there’s another part of me that wants to hold it tenderly to my chest and guard it like a precious baby freshly emerged from my mother-womb.
This post is about the halfway place.
Here are a few things I’ll share with you:
– I love, love, LOVE St. Ben’s, the place where I usually go for retreats, only a half hour from my house. I didn’t know how much I loved it until I was there once again. It’s not a particularly beautiful place. The rooms are plain and ordinary and there’s not a big budget for the extras that make some retreat centres splashy. But it’s located on beautiful grounds by the river, and even in the winter someone lovingly clears the paths through the woods for contemplative wanderers like me. And there’s an art room and a friendly little kitchen and a library and staff and nuns who know how to stay out of your way and just let you find a peaceful centre.
– I realized this week that one of the things I love about St. Ben’s is that it is a celebration of the feminine divine. It’s run by a Benedictine order of nuns, and everywhere you look there are images, sculptures, and books reminding you of the presence of the feminine divine. Even the crucifix in the garden is surrounded by the three women who (unlike the men) didn’t abandon Christ in his agony. I felt like I was being held in a safe womb, carried through time and place by the stories of women who’d held space for me to emerge.
– One of the places I was most surprised to have an encounter with the feminine divine was, ironically, the chapel. (I know it sounds odd, but often I think churches are the hardest places to find God, especially the feminine manifestation.) I only joined the nuns once for midday prayer, but when I sat there surrounded by silver-haired nuns in silent and shared prayer, tears welled up in my eyes at the beauty of the feminine wisdom in the room.
– Although I was on retreat primarily to get some focused writing done on my book, the first night there I was quite intentional about not writing yet, but instead clearing the space for the writing to emerge. Just down the hall from my room was an art room, which I took full advantage of and the painting below emerged. At first I thought it was just a compilation of some of the thoughts going on in my head, but then, after looking at it for a few days while I was writing, I realized that it is really a visual representation of what is emerging in my book.
– One of the other things I love about St. Ben’s is the library which was also just down the hall from my room. There are books there that are rarely available anywhere else, and the delightful thing is that I think there are more books on the feminine divine than the masculine. Not that we don’t need both kinds of books, but it’s just nice to see the balance shifted the other way once in awhile.
– I did so much writing that I surprised myself. About 40 pages emerged over the course of three days. I felt so closely connected with what was showing up on the page, that there were moments when I wept.
– Speaking of what showed up on the page, this book is turning out to be even more deeply spiritual than I expected. Perhaps it was the setting, or perhaps it was just what was ready to show up.
– If you haven’t gone on retreat before, what are you waiting for? Go! Even if it’s just for a day! (St. Ben’s will give you access to a room for a day and serve you lunch for around $20.)