…Insights from my personal retreat – Part 2
“We are born alone, die alone and decide alone. And in the end we must find the music of God alone…” Sue Monk Kidd
I was first introduced to the concept of taking a personal spiritual retreat when I read Sue Monk Kidd’s book, God’s Joyful Surprise. I appreciated the vulnerability with which Kidd described her faith struggles. Like me, her journey has included periods of spiritual restlessness.
Since childhood, from time to time, I’ve wrestled with the feeling there’s something more than what I’m experiencing. A piece of spiritual puzzle seems missing. I have questions and doubts. I don’t doubt the Truth of God and Scripture, but I’m aware of a vague uneasiness I long to reconcile.
For years, I felt guilty about such times, concerned I was a rebellious Christian. Over the years, however, I’ve come to realize, sometimes a bit of spiritual rebellion is healthy—not against God—but against religious dogma, status quo worship, legalism and inflexible paradigms into which we frail humans attempt to make God fit.
I cherish my Christian heritage. Early religious training and experiences laid the foundation for my firm faith. I treasure being part of a community of authentic, similarly-minded Christ-followers. I value the periodic discipline of structured Bible study. But, sometimes my spirit needs simplicity, stillness and solitude for renewal and refreshment.
I now appreciate seasons of divine discontentment that drive me to solitude. Such times, I’ve learned, hold the promise of new personal discovery.
Kidd reports being challenged by Richard Foster, who is one of my favorite Christian writers. In his classic book, Celebration of Discipline, Foster asks, “Don’t you long for something more? Doesn’t every breath crave a deeper, fuller exposure to His Presence?”
Foster’s answer to the questions of longing became Kidd’s pursuit, and in fact, was my motivation for taking a recent personal retreat. He said, “It is the discipline of solitude that will open the door.”
For years, I’ve suspected the Monastery of St. Gertrude, located in Cottonwood, Idaho, would be an ideal setting to experience solitude. St. Gertrude’s is a community of Benedictine sisters. My husband’s grandparents joined other German Catholic immigrants who settled in the Cottonwood region in the early 1900’s. Ron’s mom was one of ten children. Esther, my mother-in-law’s older sister, joined St. Gertrude’s convent when she was 19 years old.
Esther became Sister Mildred. She was a natural beauty, petite and creamy complexioned, even when she was in her 80’s. I’m not Roman Catholic, but the little lady in traditional black habit was always kind to and accepting of me. Sr. Mildred had a reputation in the family for being somewhat harsh and opinionated. Some members tended to steer clear of her, but even though I found her a bit ‘quirky,’ I liked her from the first time we visited while sitting at a long food-laden table during one of the big, noisy family gatherings held in Ron’s Aunt Rita’s garage.
In early July of this year, I took my first retreat at St. Gertrude’s. One thing I knew I wanted to do was visit the Monastery cemetery where Sr. Mildred is buried. I inquired about the location, and after lunch, headed in that direction. Sculptures depicting Stations of the Cross marked the steep upward path. I stopped at each, not because I’m so devout, but because I needed to catch my breath! Finally, after the thirteenth Station, I reached the top.
Before me lay another answer to my “Surprise, me, God” prayer. I wasn’t prepared for this place—an oasis where mystery and serenity embrace.
I was alone, but I didn’t feel lonely.
Surely, Richard Foster was correct when he said, “Jesus calls us from loneliness to solitude.”
Loneliness isn’t a good thing. I’ve felt lonely even when surrounded by crowds of people, but there was no sense of loneliness as I meandered up and down the rows of gravesites housing remains of dozens of devoted women.
A tiny blue chapel sat at the center of the cemetery. Its weather-swollen door balked, creaking as I coaxed it open. Inside were two simple wooden pews, each perhaps 4 feet long. The 14th Station of the Cross, which depicts the body of Jesus being laid in the tomb, graced the front of the miniature house of worship. Statues of somber, serene angels knelt protectively on either side.
I’m not sure how long I sat in the small sanctuary soaking in
spiritual replenishment .
Time seemed unimportant until thunder, grumbling in the distance, suggested perhaps time did matter. I didn’t want to be doused and decided I better return to my cozy room in the Spirit Center for the next phase of my personal retreat.
Heading down the steep path, I instructed self, Weather permitting, you will return tomorrow. And, don’t forget to bring your journal. And, you better bring your umbrella too!
- God’s Joyful Surprise: Finding Yourself Loved, © 1987 ↑
- Foster, Richard J., Celebration of Discipline – The Path to Spiritual Growth, © 1978, 1988, 1998. ↑