Vol 9, Num 15 :: 2010.07.23 — 2010.09.09
The idea of taking a trip for my birthday came to me several months ago. Initially I considered a hotel or bed-and-breakfast in or near a city, and planned for some gallery-hopping, shopping and other touristy things. But as I reviewed my short list of destinations, I realized that I yearned to swap the gray of skyscrapers for the green of nature. I wanted to breathe in the smell of fresh pine, as opposed to the stench of exhaust fumes. Suddenly, going on another retreat suddenly became a more appealing option.
I recalled my first one years ago at All Saints, a local convent. The nun on duty, called the Guest Mistress, settled me into my comfortable room, or cell. I and the two other women in the Guest Wing took long walks in the park adjacent to the convent, chatted together in the living room and ate our meals off of antique dinnerware. I was amazed at the effect my overnight stay had on my mental and physical well-being.
With memories of this previous visit in mind, I called the convent, only to discover that they were in the midst of their own extreme makeover and they were closed. Now what? Then I remembered a link to a website that listed numerous retreat centers, convents and monasteries worldwide and got to work. I decided to look at centers in nearby states, but they had to be easy to get to. I ended up finding a retreat center in Pennsylvania called Pendle Hill that was quite affordable and particularly welcoming to writers and other artists. There was a train station a mile from the center in Wallingford, and guests could arrange to be picked up from there. In no time, my dates were confirmed, train tickets were purchased and anticipation began to build.
There were a few conditions I established for myself. My laptop was to be used solely for the purpose of a writing project I was working on at the time. E-mail would be checked once in the morning and again in the afternoon, ten minutes tops. Facebook and other social media networks would be completely off limits.
Upon my arrival, the center’s resident Quaker community was very welcoming. Since I was on a personal retreat, I had the option of interacting with the residents as much or as little as I wanted to. I would be staying in the main house, which contained the dining room too. There was a fully stocked beverage area, accessible to guests round-the-clock. My room was simply furnished with a bed and sturdy writing desk, waiting to be used. I was able to do significant work on my project, both in my room and in the well-stocked library that was open 24 hours. The center’s reading room had many magazines, journals and newspapers for guests, yet I had no desire to keep up with daily events.
Instead, I enjoyed God’s creation on long walks on the gorgeous center grounds, breathing in the fresh spring air and fragrant blossoms. I took advantage of the benches scattered around to soak up nature in quiet reflection or to dream aimlessly. During these times, my journal and camera were my companions. I found my way to the small garden near the main house, resting in the gazebo to gaze at the miniature fountain across from it. I found myself drawing in deep, cleansing breaths more often, not the shallow gasps that seemed to reflect the hurried pace of my workaday world.
We dined on wonderful meals of fresh locally-grown and organic food. I marveled at the taste of an egg sandwich prepared with a freshly-laid egg at breakfast. Free-range chicken melted in my mouth. And at each meal, we cut into thick, hearty slices of homemade bread, and then slathered homemade preserves on them. Mealtimes were filled with both serious and light-hearted conversations, as I got to know my hosts and other visitors. And they surprised me with a homemade brownie and good wishes on my birthday, too!
All too soon my retreat was over, and I returned home with regret, but with a clearer and less cluttered mind. Rested and refreshed, I was ready to tackle life again. I hope to return to Pendle Hill later this year, during the fall, my favorite time of year. I want to use the 24-hour artists’ studio, which featured a variety of art supplies, from looms for weaving to clay for ceramics.
No longer do I see the retreat as something for other people. It’s become a welcome gift from the Lord that I can’t afford to deny myself. And when I think about it, why would I?