New England Retreats: Seeking the Silence
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.
Other visitors reported an equally peaceful experience. “It’s a wonderful, safe place,” said Nancy Sajda, a retired computer development manager who was there with the Women’s Center. “I’ve been here at least 10 times and I hope to keep coming back.”
Wisdom House Retreat and Conference Center, 229 East Litchfield Rd., Litchfield, CT. Rates vary, depending on duration/type of stay and type of accommodation; meals included. 860-567-3163. wisdomhouse.org