Monday, August 18, 2014

Four Days of Solitude

I just returned from four days in a hermitage, far away from contact with the outside world.  How was it?  Good, peaceful, challenging, freeing, surprising.

It wasn't my first "silent" retreat.  I've been to a retreat center where there were lots of other people in dormitory style rooms, eating in the same dining hall, and sharing the grounds.  Some of them were silent, others weren't.  That presented a different kind of challenge to be silent, but you were never far from the sound of people talking and laughing.

Last week, I went away to Christ in the Wilderness, 80 acres of forest, meadow and prairie with 3 hermitages and a main house.  The only sounds were the birds and wildlife. No cell service, tv, radio, or wifi.  I brought in all my groceries with me (and way overestimated how hungry I would be), and prepared my meals in the small kitchen.  After climbing a hill from the grassy parking area, I had 50 steps up to my hermitage:

Thankfully, Sister Julia has an ATV that she used to shuttle me and all my stuff up the hill!
Another climb up from my hermitage, and there was this perfect place to read, pray and enjoy my morning coffee each day.  The sun-warmed, morning peace was such a gift.  
 Tucked in around the grounds were the most wonderful little spots just to sit and be alone with God and enjoy the blessings of nature.
 My favorite place was at the top of a hill, where I was delighted to find this lovely swing.  I spent several hours there -- eating lunch, reading, praying and journaling.
My final evening, I stayed up there to watch the sun set.  It was a glorious sight, and the only reason I was able to tear myself away was the fact that I had a rather dark wooded area to walk through in order to get back "home".   There was nothing in the woods that would harm me, but this "city girl" didn't want to hear anything that went bump in the night, because my imagination would have taken off!
In the safety of my hermitage deck, I loved reveling in the night sky, and seeing things we never get to observe in the city.  This was taken a day after the "super moon".  The previous night it had been overcast, but it was still a glorious sight a day later.
And the STARS!  It's unbelievable how many there are up there!  This photo doesn't begin to capture the majesty of the night sky, but it sure is a lot more than I've seen in a very long time.  And I even saw several shooting stars!
There was a very busy bird feeder in my yard.  What a joy to sit out in front of my hermitage -- reading a book or working on a art project, and look up to see the little creatures flitting about to their heart's content.  It's the first time I ever saw a rufous sided towhee: 
and a tufted titmouse!
I learned to recognize many of the birds by sight as well as the sound of their call.  That's a gift of solitude.

I also learned what wild turkeys sound like as they amble through the underbrush.  You could hear their comical little clucking noises from all directions.  And sometimes they came and visited me, but always left as soon as they saw me, no matter how still I sat.  
Each day there were new delights to discover:

 The biggest gift of the solitude was listening for God's voice.  I have no doubt that God is speaking to me all the time, I'm usually just too busy to listen.  Four days gives a lot of opportunity to take in some pretty amazing stuff.  I filled many, many journal pages, and will be able to glean from the wisdom I received for a long time to come.  And hopefully I brought a bit of the peace and solitude I found there back with me to my busy, but blessed life.