The Community Retreat

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.



9 thoughts on “The Community Retreat”

  1. Dear Community.

    I wish you a blessed time of retreat, and hope nothing will happen that has to be dealt with instanter.
    May you have this time in peace without too much grumbling or “tetchy-ness”.

    I suppose Bro Duncan will be “retreating” as well!

    I will pray for you.

    • I hope you are enjoying your pilgrimage and vacation. Two parishes that I know of in our diocese made group pilgrimages to the Holy Land, everyone found it an enriching experience.

  2. Blessings on your retreat. I am a member of Monasteries of the Heart. We are currently reading (or re-reading) the chapter in Joan’s book on Retreat. Your reflection was an excellent addition which I e-mailed to some of my MOH sisters. Thank you.

  3. Blessings on your retreat. I have lived for 12 1/2 years in a simple life of prayer and reflection. My promises are for a life of poverty, chastity, and stability. As you in a cloister use an annual retreat for growth, so I in my own life do the same. It is always much needed and very, very positive–even with the occasional emergency that must be dealt with–who will fix the clogged sink? I must!

  4. I happen to be reading Thomas Merton’s essay ‘The Christian in the Diaspora’ and it is him who explains the role of monastic withdrawal. He say a lot about it but in the passage that came to mind he describes it as a paradox:
    “In actual fact the real meaning of the monastic paradox of separation from the world and yet openness to it cannot be understood merely in terms of the classical interrelationship of action and contemplation. The monk is not simply a contemplative who “shares the fruits of his contemplation.” He is one who is on a pilgrimage “out of this world to the Father” and while remaining in the present life he is a sign of the world to come because his true perspectives are those of the eschatological Kingdom of God. Monks are not “of this world” as Christ is not of this world. (John 17:14-15). Yet they participate in the crisis and tragedy of the world, which they see and understand quite differently from the world. Hence the concern of the monk can never be limited to the building up of an earthly and temporal structure, [don’t fix to many sheds, please Sister- you have much more important things to do for us, please] nor can he simply join in the labours and vicissitudes of the active apostolate.

    The monk retains his own perspectives and his own horizons which are those of the desert and the exile. But this in itself should enable him to have a special understanding of his fellow man in an age of alienation” Seeds of Destruction: Thomas Merton 219-220

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