"Be still and confess that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth." Psalm 46:11
Windridge Solitude is an 83 acre retreat in Lonedell, Missouri that is owned and operated by a new religious community of nuns whose mission is "spiritcare and earthcare." They seek to balance their lives between the active and contemplative, between solitude and community, and offer their guests the essence of these same gifts where one can truly hear the still, small voice of God.
Mary, a retired psychologist, and Carolyn, a retired college teacher, tend to the everyday needs at Windridge Solitude. Michelle and Malia are involved in education — the former as a preschool special education teacher and the latter a resource person for teachers with special needs students. Anne Margaret works as a rural carrier substitute at a nearby post office.
These women came into my life in the most providential way. Sister Carolyn had four books to publish and felt that Bezalel was the answer to her prayers. She sent me drafts of each and explained how all the proceeds from these books would be paid directly to the retreat she managed called Windridge Solitude. Along with her daily chores at Windridge, this, too, was to be her contribution. Intrigued, I visited the Windridge website and ultimately accepted her books.
Very quickly, however, questions that focused on plot, character development, and dialogue soon centered on the philosophy of Windridge and what was offered to a retreatant. Our relationship took on a new dimension when Carolyn became my friend and spiritual mentor. Somewhere along the way, her books were published but their significance easily took a back seat to my own growing desire to experience Windridge Solitude firsthand. Over the years, I have both attended and facilitated a variety of workshops but had never been on a sabbatical, or retreat, where the keynote speaker was God! The very idea of such a time and place mesmerized me.
So this past week, amid blooming fall colors and skies smattered with clouds and intermittent bursts of sun, I flew from Michigan to Missouri. Windridge Solitude is about an hour's drive from the St. Louis airport and sits at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. It is where seekers of God encounter Him in all His earthly glory.
It goes without saying that God, most certainly, is everywhere and in every human being we encounter; but it also goes without saying that there is something quite different, and maybe even necessary, about making the conscious effort to remove yourself from your daily life and actively search for God in the quiet and stillness of a place like Windridge.
Now don't get me wrong, this isn't an altogether easy thing to do. I spent the initial couple of hours of my first day staring lamely at my cell phone wondering if there was a way to turn it into a television receptor. Then I spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out how to text message someone, anyone. I readily admit that there was a very real part of me nearing a panic attack as I looked around the beautiful, cozy room wondering if I could sustain myself without access to a computer.
I sat upon a couch where the total and complete view was the great outdoors. God and His creation was the focal point, not a television set. Funny, I soon realized as I calmed myself down, that I rarely watch television at home but the thought of it not even being an option made me a bit edgy. I looked at the books I brought and yet longed for technology. I had always complained in my home with three teenage boys playing computer games, listening to music, playing ping-pong, and watching t.v. that I couldn't hear myself think. Now, as I walked around the cottage, every inch inviting me to sit and be with God, my thoughts were bouncing off the walls, having nothing to run interference.
Fortunately, "Faithful Love" (the cottage I stayed in) was true to its name and as I began to relax I was overcome with the realization of God's presence and His very real interest in me. I had, after all, prepared myself for this time alone with Him. The week prior to departure, as I caught up on laundry, wrote columns, and bought groceries, I kept telling God that I would soon be "all His." I promised Him my full and undivided attention and looked forward to the ways in which He would work in me and strengthen my relationship with Him. I eagerly anticipated what the retreat would hold, knowing that I ached for His presence in a way unlike any I had previously experienced.
It quickly became clear that once past my initial feeling of isolation, I had much work to do. I had to get to know God on a whole knew level and open myself to being known on a whole new level. I knew God in the birth of my children and in my marriage vows. I knew Him in my work and in my family and friends. I even knew Him to be in the pesky human encounters that are sometimes part of life. I knew Him in time spent at Eucharistic Adoration, in the heartache of losing my beloved grandmother, and through the salvific blood of His Son. But I didn't know Him in the extended solitude of time and space that was available at Windridge. So when He began tugging at my heart to spend time at Windridge, I am grateful to have responded; and I am still in awe of His infinite love and at the ways in which He will work in our lives when we only give Him the chance.
For more information visit http://www.windridgesolitude.com/. One of sister's books, "Gabriel, Blow Your Horn!" is being offered as part of the Bezalel Family Book club that begins in January, 2008 and which is being sponsored by Lisa Hendey of Catholic Mom, Sister Carolyn will be one the authors moderating online discussions for her book. For more information about the book club, visit http://www.catholicmom.com/ and listen to podcast #15.