“Jesus would frequently withdraw to where he could be alone and pray.” (Luke 5:16)
For the last 39 years I return to the Iowa monastery for my annual retreat. It has been a powerful renewal each year and a reminder to me to be still and know that He is Lord. Each year I take a group of guys, all of whom are eager for solitude and silence... until they cannot access their mobile devices.
It is hard to step away from the noise--phones calls, friendships, family-- everything seems so urgent and immediate; but the bottom line is what really matters, which is our personal time with the Lord. These annual visits to New Melleray Abbey, where I was first found by Christ in 1973, have been a source of personal renewal for me and also a great gift to the many men who have traveled with me and discovered the healing power of solitude and contemplative prayer. We find not only spiritual renewal but a deepened desire for God’s love and purposes for their lives. These retreats have borne deep fruits-- the joy of renewed friendships and reminders that times of silence and solitude are foundational to being anchored for a sane and purposeful life, giving us hope that we might become a reflection of the Lord’s amazing grace.
One of the guys, a veteran of these retreats, wrote to me recently: “It had been a lonely faith journey for me until I began to experience intentional time alone with the Lord. My first visit to the monastery seven years ago was marked by skepticism, fear, and judgement. I was craving to be back to my busy life and ‘to get things done.’ I have responsibilities,” he went on. Yet after the second day of the retreat, he said that the Lord began revealing Himself in some unexpected and even uneasy ways. At the end of our five-day journey into the “heart of Christ,” this friend shared that he simply did not want to leave the monastery.
Similar stories from nearly 40 years of shared retreats have given me some insights concerning the fruit of the Spirit in relationship to prayer, the interior life, meditation, and contemplation. Solitude can lead one to a desire for Jesus, to unite our heart with His in the joy of life. (John 17:1-12) It can also be the place of conviction and repentance when your busyness is stripped away so that you can see yourself for who you really are. The persona of your life is lifted and therefore your life can be renewed.
Solitude is also a place of inner peace where the concerns of the world can be put aside so that one can participate to care for and love those who are suffering and disenfranchised. Strength for our ongoing journey of love and service are magnified through prayer and retreat.
Solitude also provides a place to grow in discernment and wisdom, to find solace, and to develop a heart of kindness which is nurtured in prayer. Finally, you do not have to be in a retreat environment to practice prayer, supplication, and solitude. It simply takes a little bit of creativity and desire to shut off the phones, unplug one’s computer, and find a corner somewhere that becomes a place of peace.
We all need to take a step or two into monitoring those noises that flood our lives on a daily basis.
Let us pray to find the discipline to embrace our “inner monastery.”
In His Service,