Silence & Snow

March 2017 at Holy Cross Abbey

Do you enjoy silence? My spirit is happier when I have the chance to immerse myself in the quiet of a prayerful place.

This week I was on silent retreat at Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia, about an hour’s drive from my home. I used to come here regularly — during the decade I served Poolesville Presbyterian Church (2002-11). I used my continuing education funds and time. But instead of working on another degree, I would simply occupy a quiet room in a place fueled by the rhythm of monastic prayer.

More than five years ago, I quit my job as pastor in order to focus all my energies on writing. I found it challenging not to be employed. I created some sources of income: becoming an Air BnB host, supply preaching, and doing administrative work. Some of that activity was in response to financial need, but some was my strict sense of needing to pay my own way, even in our marriage.

One of the “extras” I cut from my life were retreats at the monastery. I told myself I could write in my own study and indulge in silence all day long if I liked. Still, it’s not exactly the same. There is something unique about coming to a place set apart and saturated in prayer. That sense of consecration is what draws people like myself, who come to make a retreat.

Last September I began as the pastor at Hermon Presbyterian Church. With continuing education funds once again available, I was happy to return to the Abbey. As always, I had a list of projects to work on and a stack of books to read. But I also spent hours each day wandering in beauty, sitting in chapel, or simply staring out the window. As a bonus — I happened to be here for the one significant snowfall of the year. There is no prettier place to be when the world is hushed by snow.

Every blogpost about Holy Cross Abbey must have a picture of the cows! Check out the mom with 3 calves, to the left.

One thing I value about dwelling in silence is the chance to notice the stray bits that echo in my heart. For instance, I received a few emails about church matters (on my phone), and was astounded how quickly and powerfully I became defensive and irritable. Being in this place, I had the space and time to notice that, and pray about it, and let the Spirit resolve the matter. I hadn’t realized those feelings were building, but obviously I was on the edge of feeling overworked and burdened. I had the feeling I got here just in time! So you can see that silence and snow are preventive health measures for my spirit.

How do you attend to your spiritual health?

The world will seldom ask that question. The world will simply ask you to keep getting and spending. Yet the Spirit has such gentle gifts to offer.

More blogposts about Holy Cross Abbey, dating back to 2009.

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I'm a Presbyterian pastor and the author of two spiritual memoirs. RUINED was named a "2017 Book of the Year" by Christianity Today.

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