Window into a Benedictine Retreat: What we see, do and learn

What We Do During Retreat

We are on retreat this week, meaning that the whole community is home; silent, attending presentations by Sr. Shawn Carruth, OSB (Mount St. Benedict Monastery, Crookston, Minn.), and in deep prayer.

Retreat time is, for our Sisters, in some ways the most life-giving week of the year. It is a time of deep reflection and rest, with undivided attention on God and God’s creation. No one is running off to ministries after prayers this week!

Our schedule is a little relaxed during retreat, with Lauds at 8 am (usually it is at 6:30 am) and Eucharist at 11:15 am. We attend presentations on the theme of “Christ: Dwelling Place of the Living” at 9 am and again in the afternoon, usually before Vespers at 4. The rest of the time we are free to journal, walk, meditate and just be.

What We See During Retreat: God Everywhere!

After morning presentation, it was as if God were inviting us to come outside and revel in the beauty of creation! Golden coreopsis bloomed along the hillside, while crickets chirped and dragonflies buzzed. A turkey vulture tilted in the breezes high above the bell tower. The waters of the lake below stayed still, mirroring the sky and a few light clouds. A wren, then a jay, and finally a chorus of sparrows raised a joyful noise.

Mornings are to be treasured from indoors as well, especially together in the dining room where Sr. Shawn joins us for presentations. The dining room is surrounded on three sides with floor to ceiling windows (as is the chapel, on the floor above). As we wait in silence for Sr. Shawn to begin, nature plies us with beauty.

What We Learn During Retreat: God With Us

Sr. Shawn’s presentations have been thought-provoking and inspiring. For example, she has challenged us to constantly ask ourselves the question Jesus asked the disciples: “Who do you say I am?” She offered two stories.

In the first one, taken from an Alice Walker short story, Sr. Shawn describes an elderly black woman trying to attend a service in a big white church. The white pastor tells her, “Auntie, you must leave.” The white usher calls her “Grandmother,” and also enjoins her to leave. Finally, the white women prevail upon their husbands to eject her.

As the woman stands outside the church, listening to the congregation praying to God inside, she sees a man coming up the road. She recognizes the man as Jesus. He invites her to follow him, and she does so. Later, her body was found along the highway. No one knew why she was on the road or where she was going.

In her simple faithfulness, the elderly woman – the outcast – had been where Jesus was, and able to recognize him.

The second story took place during a climb of Mt. Sinai in Egypt. Sr. Shawn had taken a group of students there to see the sunrise, but she herself had declined to make the climb, having done so (and at great peril) before. She was concerned about a particularly unfit young man who planned to make the climb, but could not dissuade “Tom” from trying.

When Tom came back down, he told her he had been joined by a group of Nigerians (his original group was already far ahead of him). After a while, the Nigerians too began to walk ahead of him. But one young man held back. When Tom encouraged the man to go on ahead with the others, he replied, “No, I will stay with you so you are not alone.”

When sunrise came, they were still far from the peak but stopped to watch where they were. Finally, the man asked Tom his name. Tom answered him, and asked the man’s name in return. He said, “Emmanuel.”

Tears welled in Tom’s eyes as he told Sr. Shawn. Emmanuel means “God with us.” Tom understood that he had met God in the kindness of a stranger.

Sr. Shawn says Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” must be asked always. Do so, and you will help yourself to be ready at every moment for such theophanies – appearances of God – as these.

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