Silent Retreat - Initial Reflections
It is Sunday morning. I am sitting at home watching the snow come down and the smoke from the incense ascend. I was supposed to still be at the silent retreat at Holy Cross Monastery but it was decided that for safety sake, with the coming storm, everyone would head home Saturday evening. Some people left in the afternoon. Others left right after dinner. I was the only member of the group that stayed for compline. The service had a different feel with it being mostly just the monks.
It was a wonderful retreat and although I was disappointed that it had to be cut short because of the weather, I am looking forward to another retreat there.
I drove up Friday morning, leaving myself lots of extra time. I found quiet roads along the Hudson to drive along and a park to stop and watch the birds and animals. I arrived early and settled in. Since it was my first time there, I was shown around and given a sense of the rhythm of the day.
Instead of room numbers, the rooms are named after saints. I was staying in St. Thomas. The accommodations were sparse and simple but comfortable and comforting. I sat at my desk, looked out over the Hudson River, and read. I had not yet received the book we were reading for the retreat, so I spent time reading God’s Lovers in an Age of Anxiety by Joan Nuth. It is for a class I’m taking on English Spirituality and Mysticism. It provided a good backdrop for the weekend.
The first official event of the retreat was Vespers. The monks sat in the front and the guests sat in the back. I thought about my trip to Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky many years ago, when I got to sit in the choir with the monks. If I had been Roman Catholic and better understood the monastic way, I could easily have become a Trappist. If I had a better understanding of monasticism and had visited Holy Cross Monastery those many years ago, I could easily have become a monk there. As I thought about the class I was taking and the setting of the monastery, I wondered about the role of the mystic, the monk, the hermit in contemporary society.
After Vespers came dinner. The food was also simple, good, and nourishing. After the meal we met briefly to talk about the agenda for the retreat. There would be meditations throughout the weekend based on Rowan Williams book, Being Disciples. We were encouraged to go to as many services as possible. We went to Compline and entered into silence.
I typically try to sleep from nine in the evening until five in the morning, but somehow, after compline and some reading, I managed to lose an hour and the clock on the bed stand said it was ten, so I went quickly off to bed.
In the middle of the night, I awoke to find the room filled with a bright light. Was the light some sort of message? Some sort of metaphor? I got up and looked out the window. There was a barge heading down the river shining a giant spotlight on the shore. I wrote in my journal about it. There are probably some good writing ideas somewhere in there.
Saturday morning, I rolled over and saw that the clock said s five thirty in the morning. I had slept later than I had planned, but it was okay since I had gone to bed later than I had planned. I got up and started preparing for the day. I showered and dressed, discovering that I had forgotten my deodorant.
I had put my phone in airplane mode. I turned it on to see if there were any important messages from the evening. There were none. I noticed that my phone said it was only five twenty, and hour earlier than the clock on the bed stand. I figured that something must have gone wrong with my phone and I set it to six twenty, but then the phone set itself back to five twenty. I’ve seen this happen before when I’ve been traveling in areas with poor cellphone coverage, so I assumed that this was the case.
I went down stairs to sit, read, and wait for Matins. It was quiet and dark. No one else seemed to be stirring. I walked over to the clock next to the refectory and found that it said it was now five forty. Twenty minutes had passed and it seemed my phone was agreeing with this clock, and not the clock in my room. It finally occurred to me that the clock in my room was an hour a head, perhaps it had never been set back when we moved to standard time.
After services and breakfast, during a time of silence in one of the rooms, the guest master and retreat leader came into the room and said they needed to break silence. I left the room and wondered what it was. We had agreed that there would be no politics discussed on the retreat and most people had decided to keep away from sources of news. I had figured that if anything really important happened, I would hear about it, and I wondered if that was what the guest master and retreat leader were talking about.
Later, I found out. Predictions of the coming ice storm had been revised. It would be worse than expected and the guests were encouraged to head home Saturday evening. Perhaps there was another metaphor or message there.
Now, I am home. I’ve lit some incense I brought home from the retreat. I have spoken with my wife and daughter a little bit about the retreat, and I have written these notes. There were plenty of important insights and conversations on the retreat, but I’ll save them for a different time and place. Now, I’ll post this respond to messages that have come in over the weekend, and prepare for the coming week.