There comes a time when we all need rest and a chance to spiritually regroup. Matthew 11:28 instructs us that we should come to the Lord to get rest when we have burdens. Recently I had an opportunity to do this when I went for a personal retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit near Atlanta, Georgia. After months of stress in many areas of my life, I simply needed time alone with God. The monastery allows outsiders to come for a personal or group retreat and take a “time-out” from the world.
The Monastery of the Holy Spirit is place inhabited by Trappists Monks who are part of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (OCSO). As a Roman Catholic religious order of contemplative monks, they follow the Rule of St. Benedict. Trappist Monks do not take a “vow of silence” however they avoid idle talk. During my stay at the monastery I didn’t observe any of the monks talking other than at the services that were conducted throughout the day.
Although I am not Catholic, I have felt that Catholics show a lot of reverence to God in their church services. Coming from a Pentecostal background, I didn’t need preaching at me or a lot of noise. I just wanted some quiet time. I was not disappointed.
At first, it took me some time to adjust to the silence. Escaping from a world of noise to a place without phones, television, Internet and radio was a little unnerving. It is interesting how noise fills our lives. From the noisy neighbor living below us to turning on the radio in the car on the commute to work, noise fills our minds every day. The quietness of the retreat house was something like I have never experienced before. The retreat house wasn’t a five-star hotel but it’s basic set up was the perfect seeting for my time with God. It honestly took the entire afternoon on my first day to settle down and unwind from the world I had escaped from.
When I made my reservation, I assumed that I would be alone or might be with a few others also on a personal retreat. That assumption was corrected at the orientation later in the evening.
The orientation was not much of an orientation. Although I was on a personal retreat there was another group from Florida attending. The best I could tell is that they were “lay associates”. I wasn’t sure about being at this meeting because most of it involved discussing Catholic church politics between the Father giving the orientation and the sisters in the group. I felt like maybe I shouldn’t be listening to what they were talking about. The Father read a couple of pages of something he had written and wanted published at some International Meeting coming up in Iowa in the summer. I wasn’t sure what that was all about. I was beginning to wonder if I was in the right place but I didn’t want to be rude and leave either.
Fortunately the orientation dismissed so we could attend “compline” which is the end of day prayers. The church layout is not a normal church setup like I have been accustomed to. There were two long choir lofts facing each other. The Monks and the other retreat group took their places there. I decided that my best place was the pews in the back so I could observe and participate the best I could. To be honest, I have no idea what they said or sung during this time but it was reverent and I felt God was in that place. We were honoring God and that’s the only thing that was important to me.
Following compline was the Grand Silence which begins at 8 p.m. every evening. The gates are locked and the retreat house is quiet. Very quiet. I had my personal time alone with God. It was quiet until some violent thunderstorms blew in a few hours later. Hail began beating against my window and lightning struck all around the monastery. I hoped that the Monks were praying for our safety. Needless to say that I didn’t get much sleep that first night. At 4 a.m. I attended “vigils” in the church. Again there was a lot of stuff going on that I didn’t understand. Singing, chanting and other activities. A Monk read a passage from Exodus 19 which was followed by more chanting. Then we had 30 minutes of silent meditation. This time of meditation was amazing for me. For the first time, I was able to meditate and totally have my mind upon the Lord. The church sat still before the Lord. The only noise was an occasional cough and the hollowing winds from the storm which continued to beat against the church. I really spent some time escaping with God. Speaking to Him in my mind and allowing Him to give me rest. When the time of meditation ended, there was more singing, chanting and another Monk read something about being a monk. Then it was over. I went back and slept peacefully.
I don’t really know what purpose a Monk serves. I know they are called to commit their lives to prayer but I don’t know how being completely isolated from the world serves others. They are no doubt serving God but I don’t know how they can pray for the world when they are not in the world. I asked if I could speak to a Monk or ask questions about their calling but I never had that opportunity.
During my retreat at the monastery, I rotated my time between the lake, the church and my room. I read a couple of books I had purchased from the Abbey Store. The store is stocked with good books, religious items and food made by the Monks such as fudge, jellies and cookies. The store is open to the public. A new, larger store is scheduled to open in May 2011.
In addition to the new store, The historic barn where the monks lived will be restored and renovated, building a cloister that will show the public the design and beauty of a monastic cloister, a café, a center of monastic history worldwide and exhibits on monastic life, and an expanded area for the monastery’s industry of bonsai plants and pottery, as well as a greenhouse and garden. There will also be a prayer walk that will guide visitors from this public area to the abbey church, while also maintaining the privacy and solitude of the cloistered areas where the monks live. The monastery has an estimated 70,000 visitors a year already and anticipates that number increasing significantly with the building of the Monastic Heritage Center and the linking of the monastery as the spiritual gateway to the nearby Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area.
It wasn’t a vacation but it was time I needed. He restored my soul as David expressed in Psalm 23. If you are looking for a spiritual reboot, I highly recommend Monastery of the Holy Spirit.
Monastery of the Holy Spirit
2625 Highway 212 SW
Conyers, Georgia 30094
Weekend Retreats: Check in on Friday after 2:00 p.m. Check out by 1:00 p.m. on Sunday.
Midweek Retreats: Check in on Monday after 2:00 p.m. Check out by 12:00 noon on Thursday.
Cost: $60-$100 per night ($30 deposit can be made by phone using a credit card)
Meals are included.
For Reservations: (770) 760-0959
Note: Gates close at 8 p.m. each night.
Group Retreats: Check the website for upcoming group retreats.