New England Retreats: Seeking the Silence
The next morning when our small group reconvened, speech at last restored, the rainbow was acknowledged as a moment of grace. We talked about the peace we felt in its presence, about the community that can form in the absence of words.
Gonzaga: Eastern Point Retreat House, 37 Niles Pond Rd., Gloucester, MA. Rates begin at $180 for a weekend retreat with private room and shared bathroom; meals included. 978-283-0013. easternpoint.org
The Many Forms of Divinity
On my first evening at the Wisdom House Retreat and Conference Center, in the hills of Litchfield, Connecticut, I came upon a labyrinth. It was dusk, and the path of embedded stone and brick wasn’t easy to see, but I decided to try it anyway.
The circuitous route doubled back and detoured several times. With the dark closing in, I began to feel impatient. Finally, the center became obvious. I stepped into it and stood, anxiety dropping away. The message couldn’t have been clearer if someone had shouted it in my ear: Slow down. Trust that you will reach your destination.
If the labyrinth is a metaphor for life’s journey, then Wisdom House prides itself on honoring the many paths that lead to understanding. That weekend, several groups were in retreat on the center’s 54-acre campus. Members of the Women’s Center of Huntington, Long Island, occupied the farmhouse; as I made my way inside, I could see their candle-lit circle through the window. In the main building, where I was staying, the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk, an order of Roman Catholic nuns, were downstairs watching The Chronicles of Narnia. The smell of popcorn wafted from the room. A sign taped to the door asked, “What longings for us as a community were stirred up as possibilities in this film?”
Besides offering private retreats, Wisdom House hosts programs on topics from the Bible and sacred chanting to money management and yoga. The flexibility is by design. Wisdom House occupies what was originally a novitiate and convent for the Daughters of Wisdom, a Catholic order founded to serve the poor and the outcast. Sister Rosemarie Greco, the center’s administrator, says it now reaches out to “anyone seeking divine wisdom,” with an emphasis on women and artists, groups she counts among today’s marginalized.
The place is ardently interfaith, with activist overtones. Displays urged action on human trafficking and the rights of minorities and women. Vegetarian options were offered at meals; fair-trade coffee was served. The center is deeply committed to the fight against the privatization of water — “a spiritual issue that is generating a global political crisis,” says Sister Rosemarie. During introductions, she urged retreatants to drink the center’s artesian well water and to eschew bottled water.
Although retreats are only occasionally conducted in silence, the center’s large size and solid — if institutional — construction seem to mitigate noise. Some guests find the quiet daunting; Sister Rosemarie urges them not to turn away. “Things may come up in the silence, but at least they’re important things,” she says. My small, homey room was on the fourth floor with the Ursuline Sisters, who in any case were exceedingly quiet in word and in action.
Unless you’re there as part of a program, the experience at Wisdom House is somewhat looser than the one at Eastern Point. I got up early the next morning to go down to the chapel, a lovely open space where several other women were already in prayer. After breakfast — buffet style — I returned to the labyrinth. This time it was easier to walk it as intended: slowly, with deliberation. The place was having its effect. I went back inside to read from a book of meditations I’d found in the lounge beside my room.