Monday, June 4, 2012

Coming Home from the Monastery

My husband is home from a weekend retreat at Holy Cross Abbey.  It's a Carmelite's duty to go on retreat once a year. This was his first time, and really the very first night he's ever spent the night away from home. It was hard to see him off, especially knowing I'd be alone for two nights with Miss Colic, but I was super excited for him.

I told my husband not to have big expectations of himself. Last year, I went off on retreat with big plans to stay up all night at Adoration, etc. Instead, of deep spiritual insights, God really took care of my physical needs. I mostly enjoyed napping and eating real meals for 48 hours after our crazy month long move. I felt a little guilty, until I realized later that same weekend I was newly pregnant with Baby Abigail! God knew I really needed that physical R & R more than deep interior conversations about the purpose of my vocation.

Considering that we are currently on week 11 of colic with Baby Abigail, I told Jon "you might simply really enjoy sleeping through the night at the monastery and eating dinner without stopping to become a human baby swing!"

Jon came home very happy. He said a surprising thing.

"It wasn't that different over there!"

Which was such a cool insight. I've spent so much time longing for a monastery. It seems so beautiful. So silent. So perfect. Who can't rise to heaven with hours of silent, daily prayer? Yet my husband said, it didn't feel that different from our home.

...our home with five, very young, very noisy, boisterous children!

It's the same God--in the monastery and in the Catholic home.

It seemed to me that he got to a very Brother Lawrence place, where pray to God and work for God is very much one and the same. What a beautiful place to be.

We talked about "Silence"--how silence is an interior thing. You can be in a quiet monastery, with nothing but the moo of cows for miles around. Jon said it was so quiet he could hear "the buzzing in his ears." Yet, you can be in a place of exterior silence and still have a whirl of conflict and noise in your own soul. Alternatively, you can be in the midst of a noisy Catholic household with colicky babies crying, doors slamming, and fights over who gets to sit shot gun--and have interior silence.

Silence means listening to God.

And what else do we Catholic parents do all day but constantly plead to God for help in civilizing our unruly and charming children?

(I'm so happy to be in this place where I'm at peace with my vocation. I don't long to be a hermit anymore. Well, only on Sundays and special occasions! Still, I have peace that any spiritual insight the monks gain over in Berrysville is equally attainable right here, in my common Catholic family life. Suddenly, all those annoying things about motherhood--how I never have a chance to finish a thought uninterrupted, how I'm constantly dealing with cleaning human waste products--suddenly seem like a valuable means of breaking my self will. Those Trappist monks work hard at breaking their selfishness, their desire to sleep well, eat well, and get their own way. Meanwhile, I've got a baby--with colic! It's like God freely hands out powerful cleaners to erase all the selfishness in my soul! )

My husband said his weekend was "okay", "comfortable" but not this overwhelming bit of peace like going to a spa or an expensive vacation. He said he wasn't eagerly counting down the minutes until his next retreat. I'm so happy he feels that way. We talked about a yearly retreat being like a "realignment" for your car. After that service, you don't automatically notice a difference while driving your car, but its necessary. Going in for a regular soul "realignment" keeps your vocation on track.

My yearly retreat is in July with the Carmelites. I'm taking Baby Abigail and her all important baby swing to Mount Saint Mary's retreat house. If I set her up in her swing in front of the Blessed Sacrament, I'll take a picture.

(PS There seriously is a retreat for every need and for every budget. You can even just make up a retreat yourself with a few hours of Adoration at your local church. Give yourself a "Soul Summer Vacation!" Anyone have any favorite retreat spot?)


  1. We had a pesticide blast over here where I live and I was in my first trimester so I spent the night at a very close local hotel. I was so relishing it--a night of good sleep on an UBER BED, a television (we don't have one) and ROOM SERVICE.

    Guess what? It wasn't so much better over there! I struggled with the pillows, they were TOO Fluffy, I couldn't quite get the hang of the fancy smanzy remote control, and I heard the other hotel residents come to and fro all night long. The food was ended up being too rich even for my refined palate!

    I fled my sanctuary at the crack of dawn and was home before 5 AM, I could have slept in til 9 am or check out time...I guess...

    But, in the end, I missed my toddler who never sleeps and the comforts of our messy home.


    Sometimes the fantasy of what something is (in our heads that is) is better than the true reality.

    Heck, not just sometimes but really, always!

  2. I love the idea that the monastery isn't so different from the home. You might like this lady's website - where she speaks all about the cloister of your daily life.

  3. I have a park that's maybe 15 minutes from my home. On top of the hill in the park, there is a small shrine to Mary. It's a great mini-retreat when I have less than an hour:

    This summer, I hope to visit St. Anne's Shrine on top of another hill. A little further away from me, but they have the Stations of the Cross leading to the top:

    I am always pleasantly surprised to find such little Catholic gems scattered throughout my neighborhood!

  4. Oh this comes just as I'm trying to discern whether to keep up my weekly holy hour during this first trimester period of exhaustion and queasiness. It is usually after 9 by the time we get all the kids in bed and I'm so exhausted that the last few times I've gone I've spent most of the time with my head on the back of the pew sound asleep. And that was before the real exhaustion hit! Perhaps I really should just go to bed and trust that God will give me those graces if I ask for them. My heart longs for the peaceful chapel and the Presence of Jesus but my body keeps telling me that 7 hours of sleep is just not enough for a pregnant mama.

  5. It never occurred to me that you could go on retreat *with* the baby! That is very encouraging for me. I'm seriously thinking about going away for 24 hours or so (with the baby, that is!) sometime in July. I know of a little cabin I could stay at for the night, and I could go to Mass in the morning up there before heading home. It isn't a retreat house, but I think it could still be a retreat like experience. I think! I've actually never done anything more than a half day retreat because of baby/toddler needs.

    I find I do reasonably well finding that silence within, even with all the chaos... but I think I retreat into it too far at times and I tune out too much of the family bustle around me. I would love to be able to retreat into that silence and not feel guilty about it!

  6. What a wonderful insight. I'm so glad Jon got to go on retreat, and so happy you and Baby Abigail will be there! Last year, I had to leave the retreat after 24 hours because little Sonja was running a high fever (my husband, who is the second of 8, told me not to worry. I'm glad I didn't listen because it ended up being hand, foot, and mouth...and a nasty one at that...I was SO upset to leave!). So I'm praying this year
    I get to stay the whole time. Melanie B, keep that holy hour if you can! During my fifth pregnancy, my morning sickness was so bad I needed medication, and it lasted close to 16 weeks, but I still kept my regular holy hour. One week, I was so tired, exhausted, hormonal (my hour is a Friday evening), that I came into the chapel, and the lovely woman before me saw how pitiful I was. I just cried to her, and to Jesus...that I had forgotten how much being pregnant stunk! She was so gentle to me, and I needed her words that night. I spent the majority of my pregnancy in Adoration in tears, or unable to find a suitable chair later on :-) But I was SO grateful for that regular time with Him. When you need Him the most, it's when it's the hardest to get there.

  7. Oh how funny, Melanie I have the total opposite advice. SKIP ADORATION! Jesus is the same in the church and in your house. You're not missing Adoration hour to go to the movies. Your body is tired from pregnancy--which HE gave you.

    I actually really like pregnancy (after I'm finished with it!) because it gives me incredible humility. Just when I get cocky about my Carmelite prayer life/homeschooling life/cleaning schedule along comes pregnancy to knock me down. It just reminds me it not about "what I'm doing for Jesus", its about doing all things with him. Including putting my head on the pillow at a ridiculously early bedtime during pregnancy.

  8. I do feel the same about pregnancy after the fact. I'm able to look back and be grateful for all the wonderful lessons I've learned. But during... it's mostly just a long slog, keeping my head down and trusting that one day I'll be able to see the experience from the proper perspective. Every once in a while I get a glimpse of what looks like it might be a corner of the blueprint of the Master Plan while in medias res and that does help sustain me.

    Actually this pregnancy began with one of those moments and your blog sort of contributed, so I'm going to tell you about it. I'd just read a post where you'd discussed being open to life and having plenty of room for number five and I felt a little tug at my heart. Oh no, God, I told him, Abigail might be ready for c-section number five but not me. I need another six months at least. I need to wait until Anthony is two. I need to wait until we've started Isabella in first grade and I've got this homeschooling thing under control. I need more time. And then in adoration it kept bugging me and I realized I needed to give control back to God. So I took it to my husband and let him make the call, giving control to him instead of it being all about me and my fears. And he reiterated a bunch of reasons why it really did make sense for us to wait. And then, well, God has a sense of humor because it turns out that at the moment of that conversation I had already conceived and I was just agreeing with what he already knew was an accomplished fact.

    So when I found out I was pregnant there was actually this great sense of putting down the burden of all those fears. Well, I guess I'm just going to have to trust God to take care of all those things since it's clear I never was in charge to begin with. It felt so freeing to just let it all go. But that was before the nausea and exhaustion. Now I'm fighting the daily battle of how to control the nausea, how to get enough sleep and how to take care of all five of my children.

    I want adoration. I need adoration. But my body says: SLEEP. I guess I'm being asked to give up adoration just as I finally got to the point of realizing how much I need it. Jesus doesn't let us rest in one place for very long, does he?

    And the funny thing is he has sort of given it back to me in a different way. I just found a homeschooling group that meets for a children's adoration one Friday a month. It's half an hour of songs and prayers and then a craft and then play time. Not at all what I need (or think I need); but what my kids need for sure.

    It's just like what happened when my quiet prayer time disappeared. In desperation I turned to listening to the Liturgy of the Hours podcast while cooking meals. And you know what now my kids all love praying the hours with me! Again, not what I thought I needed; but what is best for them for now. Praying while I work feels so much less legitimate and I am so very distracted and yet I know it's what I'm supposed to be doing because it is all I have the ability to do right now.

    I think I will get back to adoration once this super sleepy first trimester passes and I'll be all the more truly present to my Jesus then because of the time we've spent "apart". Suddenly I have a new plan and I know it will be even better than before.

    I just finished reading He Leadeth Me and the sections about living in God's will at every moment really hit home. Pregnancy is exactly like the work camps in Siberia! It creates total dependence on God to get through every grueling minute. Oh what a tough grace!

  9. For those of you who might not be able to leave the house for a formal retreat, I HIGHLY recommend "Consoling the Heart of Jesus - a do-it-yourself retreat inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius" by Michael E. Gaitley ( a Marian Father at the shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbrodge)...

    I have been reading during Henry's hospital visit out to Philly... It is beyond amazing...I have never felt closer to the heart of Jesus, even in this very stressful time...


  10. Melanie, that could be my favorite reader story of all time!

    Carla, so happy that you shared this advice! Praying for you to feel consoled as you care for Mr. H during this latest hospital stay.

  11. Thanks, I just knew it was a story I had to tell you.

    Funny follow-up. I just got an email from my mother-in-law out of the blue saying that she knows what a hard time I'm going through and how much I crave that introvert time. Anyway, she was offering to pay for me to go on a silent retreat this fall and to come down to help Dom with the kids while I go.

    Turns out the retreat she had in mind is the same weekend as my brother's wedding so it's a no go. And even if there wasn't that conflict, I'm still not sure about going because Anthony is not weaned yet. He's a very active 15 month old boy and I can't see him getting on very well at a silent retreat. Not like a nursing baby. Yet he's still nursing five times a day or so and I couldn't leave him behind without weaning him. But suddenly what seemed like a pie in the sky idea: "I could never go on a retreat" has been presented to me in two different forms from two completely different sources. Gonna have to see where God is going with this one.