Posted by: Sue Spencer | November 25, 2007

Long Retreat Begins

CHS’s Rule of Life provides for an annual, silent Long Retreat, extending for eight days. This can be individual, but is preferably communal.  In former times, the Manhattan and Brewster (Melrose) houses got together for the retreat, usually up here at Melrose. When this hasn’t been possible, sisters have taken their retreats individually, either staying home or going to a nearby monastery or convent.

The Melrose sisters decided to stay home this year, and have Long Retreat the week after Thanksgiving.  This means we start today, the Last Sunday after Pentecost (Reign of Christ), and conclude on the Monday morning following the First Sunday of Advent.  It’s hard for me to imagine better Advent preparation than this!          

We’ll gather for the services of Lauds, Vespers, and some days Eucharist, and will share one home-cooked meal a day.  Otherwise we’ll be on our own – or maybe it’s more accurate to say we’ll be alone together.  Sr. Catherine Grace, my mentor, has encouraged me to find a balance on the retreat, incorporating sleep and rest, meditation, prayer, reading, writing, exercise, and some form of manual work.  

My experience with silent retreats is that the Spirit does indeed lead me, often in a direction different from what I’d planned!  Usually there turns out to be a balance among various elements, though sleep may well dominate the first day or two.  By Day Three, some kind of theme or direction usually emerges – prompted, perhaps, by a dream or a strong emotion that comes up – and then things start to unfold in fairly seamless fashion.       

By then, for example, I’ll probably know which of the stack of books I’ll actually pick up and read, of those preselected as possible retreat reading!  I’ve tried to choose things that I can read and ponder in small doses, knowing my propensity to sink into a good book and not appear for days.  It’s helpful for me to remember the words with which one SSJE brother introduced a silent retreat at Emery House a few years ago:  “Think of it as going on vacation with the Lord.  How would YOU feel if you went on vacation with someone and all they did was read the whole time?”

I do expect to be blogging during this time, but am likely to be doing it off-line, posting all the entries at the end.  Otherwise, I’ll be tempted to keep checking to see if anyone has responded – a sure way to defeat the purpose of Long Retreat.  Thus this blog, like our house, now goes silent until December third.      

Earlier tonight, the sisters shared some quiet time by the fire.  At ten o’clock we dispersed, wishing one another a blessed retreat.  May you, too, have a blessed week! Even if you’re not inclined towards silent retreats, I wish for you some quiet time – to reflect on the coming season, or perhaps simply to pause, breathe deeply, and savor the moment.


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