Every year, according to our Constitutions, we make an eight day retreat. It is the nearest thing to a holiday we ever get, so it is looked forward to with some anticipation although experience teaches that it will always disappoint. Life does not stop just because the community is in retreat: there are no fairy helpers to do the cooking or cleaning or keep Veilnet and Veilpress ticking over, and every year seems to produce some sort of minor crisis that must be dealt with instanter. There is also some ambivalence in community about the whole idea of a retreat for cloistered nuns. Our daily life is permeated with prayer and scripture and we all make a serious study of theology, etc; so what can a retreat offer that ordinary life doesn’t?
I think myself that a retreat for nuns boils down to this: because we are serious about the search for God, a retreat raises our standards. It doesn’t usually make us better people, but it does make us seek better outcomes. We may get bored or tired or even a little tetchy during the course of the retreat; we may do a little quiet grumbling along the lines of ‘why did this have to happen now?’. We shall certainly be shown how far we all fall short of the glory of God, and that will, in itself, be a blessing. We shall also be reminded of our vocation to pray for all the world’s needs, and there will be times when we will feel that need most acutely. I think it was Thomas Merton who remarked that the contemplative does not withdraw from the world to avoid feeling pain but in order to unite with those who suffer at a far, far deeper level than is possible within it.
So, we are in retreat (until 6 June). Paradoxically, it is the only way to advance.