Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Hermitage Retreat Report

The week in West Virginia was wonderful, but I am having a hard time putting it into words that can really convey the experience.... It was about Silence and Solitude, a suspension of words, writing about it seems almost to negate it.

Oh yes, I could live like that, happily. Hidden away in a little house in the woods, out of sight from the road and neighbors. With chickens and goats and garden, a dog and a cat or two, deer and songbirds, the trees and a good flowing creek. Lots of God's creatures, but none of them wanting to have a conversation ... at least not about TV shows or hairstyles or politics or any of the other vapidity of modern material culture. "Pilgrims" and genuine seekers are always welcomed by a monk, even a hermit monk.

Not that there weren't some mundane distractions, with living conditions a little more rustic than this city girl is used to. Oh, but it was beautiful. The delicious stillness -- there's a different quality to the quiet of the woods. It's not the sealed-off quiet you get when you shut the house windows and doors against the world. It's full of singing birds and cicadas, the breeze in the trees, a bubbling brook ... a far-off tractor droning, a crowing rooster away down the holler, a dog barking in the distance.

I realized how liberating it is to have a very small house and minimal stuff; that manual labor (even for an INFP) is good for sanity; that God chases off "demons" (temptations, boredom, bad moods, apathy) if we but ask Him to; and that those demons always come back to try again. I read and read and read: lots of Desert Fathers; the book Seeds of Grace, by a Catholic nun about the spirituality of AA; my breviary and Bible, the beginning of Walden. Wrote lots in my journal. I sang and prayed the Office. I went hiking for hours with my field guides, learning to identify some of the different trees, butterflies, flowers.

I spent part of a couple of days with Sr. J, sharing and canning produce, and went to Mass at the local parish a few times. Sr. J also has the Blessed Sacrament available on-site, so I was able to commune without going to town. Sr. J is a gem. She is not so much a hermit, compared to the solitude I would like for myself, but nonetheless she has many years of experience that would be priceless to me if I end up settling nearby. The parish is also wonderful, a real loving community, with a pastor who is down to earth and deeply grounded in prayer. Sr. J and the pastor both promised to keep their eyes & ears open for a quiet, solitary place for me to live.

Meanwhile, I have e-mailed the diocesan representative for consecrated life, asking if there are other hermits who would be willing to be contacted by a discerner like myself. I will keep you posted.

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