Diary of a Retreatant: The Last Hours

*This is the sixth and final post about my experience at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky, on July 22-24. Links to the previous five posts are below.

Diary of a Retreatant: Showing Up
Diary of a Retreatant: Hike to the Statues
Diary of a Retreatant: Saturday Morning Sunrise
Diary of a Retreatant: Father Carlos
Diary of a Retreatant: The Horses

The experience in the woods on Sunday morning was by far the most meaningful to me. It aligns with dozens of circumstances and conversations that have unfolded since I decided to chase the dream of writing fiction. Things happened when writing the first book and they’ve happened while writing the second. Each event – big and small – have made tiny deposits in my heart that confirm that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

After the two-hour walk and those precious few seconds with the horses, I returned to the Abbey just in time to quickly shower and eat lunch. It was my favorite meal thus far: asparagus, roasted red pepper soup with gouda cheese (yummers!), and seafood salad. Annette and I sat in silence over a meal for the last time. Afterward in the elevator, I whispered to her that I’d like to edit the last few chapters one more time and then I’d be ready to go. She was accommodating either way, which I appreciated.

It’s important to note here that neither Annette nor I knew what to expect out of this weekend, at least not fully, but we both went into the experience open to whatever God wanted to do with us. Both her camera and cell phone were unexpectedly out of commission, thereby forcing her to fully disconnect in a way she didn’t intend. I won’t divulge the details of her silent retreat experience (they aren’t my details to share), but she too came away feeling as though God spoke directly to her heart on specific matters.

There is nothing, nothing, nothing greater
than knowing that God is actually interested in you
and cares about the stuff you care about.

I re-read and edited the last five chapters of the book and worked on some dialogue until I couldn’t see straight anymore. It was time to close up shop and go home. We agreed to leave at 4 p.m., but by 3:30, we had turned in our keys and taken to the road.

Room 311

My experience at the Abbey – in the library, in the chapel, in the silent dining room, in the woods, in room 311 – cannot be summed up by overused words like special, spiritual, moving. Annette and I spoke about this yesterday on the phone. We talked about how difficult it’s been to plug back in to normal life, how the noise seems noisier, how the chaos feels more chaotic.

But it’s more than that. I’ve said several times now that we went in with no expectations, but now I think that had to have been an impossibility. Surely I expected something to happen, even if I couldn’t name it. I know I expected to sleep well (I didn’t sleep well), I expected to observe but not fully connect with the Catholic tradition (I definitely connected), and I hoped to finish the book (I did). I thought I’d come away with some inner peace of some kind, but actually I feel unsettled (and still sleep deprived). I spent most of yesterday deep-cleaning my house and getting rid of things because I missed the simplicity of the Abbey.

Chapel balcony

And TV? I tried watching about half an hour the other night, but the noise of commercials and the negativity of the news (bad choice, I know) left me feeling… icky.

Coming home has required more effort and energy than what was required to adjust to the silence and schedule at the retreat center. That is something I definitely didn’t expect. 

On the drive home Annette and I talked about ways to incorporate the discipline of silence and stillness in our homes. With children, it’s a challenge. With adults, it’s a challenge. With blue tick hounds, it’s a big challenge.

But there is always hope.

Path to the sunlight

Two silent retreats a year might be wishful thinking, but one per year is doable. I have to believe this is good for the soul.

One last thing and then I’ll let you go. If you were to approach me in person and ask about my experience at the Abbey, I honestly wouldn’t know what to say. Even though I’ve written six blog posts about it, I still wouldn’t know what to say to you verbally. (This is when mind-reading would come in handy.) My hope is that you can somewhat grasp what it’s like by reading these words, but my greater hope is that you would experience it firsthand and come away with your own conclusions.

Come to think of it, if you ask me in person what the experience was like, there is nothing left to say, except, “You have to go and find out for yourself.”

Learn more about the Abbey of Gethsemani here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *