My Monastic Retreat

I have been wanting to take a monastic silent retreat for a long time, and finally had the opportunity last week.

I felt the need to get away and spend some time in prayer, Scripture reading and good old fashioned listening in order to get some clear direction for The Journey heading in to 2012.

I made the 5 hour trek to Cullman, AL. and St. Bernard's Abbey, a benedictine monastery nestled in between Birmingham and Huntsville. My experience at the monastery was rewarding spiritually, but disappointing personally. I think that (like many things in my life) I had a idealistic impression of what my retreat would be like. I had a picture of a monastery in my head that was probably more 1411 than 2011. I felt out of place and unwelcome. I was spoken to by only one monk who seemed uneasy about my presence and my intentions. I attempted to join in with the monks for evening Vespers on my first night but was unfamiliar with the liturgy and was not given any assistance in figuring it out. There was no Wednesday evening meal in the refectory so I was offered a bowl of what I can only assume was leftover bean soup from lunch. I opted not to interact with the monks any longer after that. My room was on the floor just above the cloister so I did have several encounters with monks over the next couple of days, but they were all limited to a head nod and/or a smile.

For all of that, I feel that my time of silence and solitude was extremely rewarding spiritually. I was able to read Scripture and a couple of books that I brought with me, pray and journal extensively. I felt closer to God than I have in quite a while.

Silence is so necessary BUT so difficult. I am an introvert by nature, and thought that being silent for a couple of days would be a piece of cake. I was mistaken. I am conditioned by noise. I think we all are. Even when we think we're being quiet, we really aren't. The monastery is deathly silent; eerily silent. It was kind of creepy at times. I found myself missing my phone, and my laptop and even the sound of television (which I rarely watch, but which is on in the house regularly enough for me to actually miss the sound of it). I will confess that I actually slipped out on Thursday afternoon for an hour or so and visited a local coffee house in the area. Man, I needed that!

But it was in those times of silent reflection that I actually felt that I communed with God in a deep and meaningful way. I have pages of notes that I brought home to share with my core team about the direction that I feel God is leading us as a new church in 2012. I have pages of notes about things that I believe God wants me to work on personally - things that I probably wouldn't have thought about if I hadn't taken the time to listen.

All in all, this retreat was significant and rewarding for me. I probably will not return to a monastery again. There are plenty of good retreat spots closer to home; places that would probably be more comfortable with me invading their space. I will go there next time. And there definitely will be a next time; many of them I hope.

Silence and solitude are essential spiritual disciplines as far as I am concerned, I am sorry that I have not taken more time to practice them.

But that's going to change.

See I am doing something NEW - Isaaih 43.19


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