Last spring, I felt the urge to go on a solo trip. After researching places offering meditation and prayer, I settled on a 4-day silent retreat at Bon Secours Retreat & Conference Center, in Marriottsville, MD.
Why was a silent retreat attractive to me? Well, last fall I took an eight-week mindful meditation class requiring 2 ½ hours of silence each week in a classroom lead by an instructor based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindful meditation practice. The course concluded with an 8-hour day of silent meditation, something I dreaded as we got closer. I tried to talk myself out of attending that last class, as I barely made it through each week’s session.
So here I was looking to use what I had learned during the course of 8-weeks and that final dreaded day, which I ended up loving and wishing wouldn’t end, to expanding on the experience to 96-hours. Looking into what I could do, while in silence, included daily one-on-one spiritual advice, attending Catholic Mass, exploring the hundreds of acres of state park land around the property, walking the labyrinth and gulp, being with my own thoughts.
Driving into Bon Secours I immediately noticed the endless vistas of surrounding horse farms and mountains. The moment I parked my car, the only noises I could hear, as I walked up to the center, were birds and the wind through the trees. Any road trip annoyances I was holding onto from the five-hour drive; a good chunk of it spent getting out of New York, was gone; my stress levels were heading in the right direction.
Greeting me at check-in were two missionaries just back from an assignment, admitting to me they were getting used to state-side conveniences and to pardon them if they were slow. As I waited for my room, I was encouraged to choose a rock from the basket inscribed with a message. Going through the basket, I chose a message rather than let one choose me. (Each day I would pick another rock’s message to include with my prayer time.)
Stopping in the book store on the way to my room, I picked up a book for the extended weekend, Yes, No & Maybe by Wendy Pope. My goal was to discover my life’s path; Am I on the right path? Beyond that, I really didn’t want to have expectations or control the outcome. It was a lofty enough question.
That evening we met as a group with Sister Jo, SSND (School Sister of Notre Dame); our spiritual leader at Bon Secours. We would have daily meetings with her, where we could talk about what we were experiencing and the messages we were getting from God. From that moment on we entered into silence and wore small orange signs letting those around us, who were on other retreats, that we were in silence.
Each day we were given Bible readings that were hand-picked verses Sister Jo had prayed over. After each meeting I would study the verses in hopes of diving deeper into a relationship with God. I would attend the daily mass in the chapel after seeing Sister Jo, head off to lunch then prepare for my afternoon hike. At night, before bed, I read my verses.
Unsure where I was being led, nothing was quite clicking on the second day. I was reading my book which outlined the journey of Apostle Paul and his transformation from Saul to Paul. The message being in God’s time He will reveal what is being asked of you.
Committed to silence and enjoying the relaxation, the church bell chimed signaling mealtime. Bringing my plate to a remote area of the dining room to avoid conversing with others, a tall man in a long brown robe decided to sit across from me. He immediately started talking, I pointed at my sign and smiled, and he squinted back at me not understanding, I decided to just talk; a few minutes won’t hurt. Brother Brian, a Carmelite from Baltimore proceeded to tell me stories about the Apostle Paul. I was starting to understand it was about Saint Paul.
The next day I met with Sister Jo and went over my verses, what I felt they were conveying and my connection with Paul. I had done some more research on him and his journey to receive guidance from God.
My retreat almost didn’t happen, the day before I set out for Maryland, there was a flood in our basement caused by a backup in the gutters. Several hours later, items left on top of the water heater, during the clean-up, nearly caught fire, filling the house with smoke and prompting my alarm company to send the fire department. After they determined the cause and it was safe, they left. Getting ready for bed I made one last check of the area to discover the water heater had sprung a slow leak! With my husband out of town, I didn’t want to leave my son with this, but I just took a leap of faith, called the plumber and left the next morning at 5:30 AM.
I had many reasons to turn back, but I pushed through. I’m glad I did, as I might not have uncovered the answers to what I was seeking. As we started our last session, Sister Jo opened with “As we reach for home…” followed by her reading of Psalm 26 which is about integrity and trust, my mouth just dropped open. “Sister, you just said the title of the manuscript I am working on.” We then went onto discuss how the Apostle Paul became a writer in his fifties and was responsible for writing the largest chunk of the Bible. It was all coming together.
This was the guidance I sought. Earlier this year, I closed my public relations business that I started several decades ago, I felt a strong urge to write the stories that had been swirling around in my head and flowed out when I sat down at my computer. It was a leap of faith that my husband supported and one that my prayer life was guiding me towards as well. It took a big dose of trust.
What has happened since the retreat? I feel more convinced that the choice I made to pursue a career in fiction writing, was the right one. Having started my third manuscript; Reaching for Home, a story about a woman who discovers what it means to belong while navigating a chaotic world filled with disappointment and tragedy, discovers the answers in a diary left to her by her Irish grandmother after she died. It is a story I am very proud of and one I have thought about over the course of twenty-years. I cannot wait to finish and share!
To Learn more about Bon Secours Retreat & Conference Center https://rccbonsecours.com/
Here’s a great place to learn about stress reduction through mindfullness meditation: https://www.mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/