This past August, I attended a Ten Day Intensive Centering Prayer Retreat in the Spirituality Center at St. Benedict’s Monastery and College in St. Joseph, Minnesota.
While the word 'Intensive' could be scary, it was really about deepening our relationship with God. This deepening was supported through multiple Centering Prayer sits, silence, and a daily DVD viewing with a discussion about an aspect of Centering Prayer or a related subject.
Add in a quiet, restful atmosphere; wonderful hospitality; great, tasty, plentiful food (including fresh vegetables from the Sisters’ huge gardens); a well-ordered and beautiful campus and monastery grounds; plus optional religious prayer and worship. All these ingredients worked together for a successful retreat.
The Centering Prayer sessions and the DVD viewings were well spaced so that those making the retreat had plenty of personal time. Some read a lot, some caught up on much needed rest, some sat in their spacious rooms or the comfy lounge facing a grove of pine trees and just “let it be.” Stepping outside the lounge, one smelled the pleasant odor of the pines. Nestled in it was a screened gazebo, lounging chairs and the company of twittering birds and busy squirrels feeding off the bird feeder. Next to the grove was an open area with a labyrinth ready to be prayed upon.
Another choice one could make was to hike the wilderness area on the back part of the property. It included some open prairie areas loaded with wild flowers. There were numerous trails, short and long, at various elevations throughout the wooded and open areas. Each day at midmorning I hiked one of the trails. This kept me physically tuned up and helped burn up some calories from consuming the many varied meals that were served. At the end of one of the trails was a lake named Sarah . It was small and intimate, surrounded by forest and filled with floating water lilies. There was a bench covered by a roof where one could rest and take in the beauty of it all. This was my favorite resting spot and I managed to visit it twice.
Each evening after dinner I strolled the monastery and campus grounds taking in the beautiful areas of flowers and trees that framed various sites. A large fountain served one area and was fun to gaze upon. I also had a nightly chat with St. Joseph at his statue which stood near the entrance to the chapel. One evening I happened upon the cemetery which was sectioned off for different groups. One section was for those sisters who had died in the 1800’s. A number of the sisters in that early period had short lives and must have had tough living. It made me appreciate the sacrifices that they made.
A wonder for the eye to take in was the Sacred Heart Chapel. I understood why they called it a chapel, but it was actually much larger than many churches. It had a huge dome towering over its sanctuary with an interior that had been refinished and was awesome to see and pray in.
These retreats are designed to serve our mind, body, and spirit, which they do very well. As I departed, the only question in my mind was what graces would flow in the days to come from this dedicated time. I have no doubt that they surely will.
Jim Babin is a facilitating member of several Twin Cities Centering Prayer groups, and is a longtime treasurer and board member of Minnesota Contemplative Outreach.