This week-end I went to a four day retreat at a Catholic retreat center near here. It was an extraordinary place in many respects. As we began the retreat, the leader (who was not from the center) asked Sr. Mary, “How are you going to get any of us to leave?” So, let me describe; You enter through a lovely arched door and the first room you pass is a bookstore. Need I say more? Then, you enter a beautiful cloister – an arched covered sidewalk that circles around a courtyard fountain and lovely plants. Tucked in here and there are little statues of buddha, a rabbit, a bird, etc. The sign reads; please observe silence here. There are tables and single chairs and rocking chairs. A small table holds a velvet bag of “heart stones” and you are invited to sit and hold the bag and take one out slowly and to use its message as something to carry with you throughout the day. The first day I drew “wellness”, the next day “forgiveness”, the next day “light” and on the final day as I went scurrying past, I too quickly grabbed a stone – which had the message “patience”!!!
Also in this cloister is a gorgeous book of nature photographs – one for each day – and the book lay open to the correct day – someone in the night, turns the page. There were other Christian symbols of course, a statue of Mary, and of St. Francis and there were crosses pretty much in every corner. There was a beautiful temple bell and a lovely windchime. But most of all what you heard was the constant birdsong echoed in this cloister.
But, on to the rooms. This was once a convent and so the rooms were extraordinarily simple. I remember sighing when I walked into mine. Plain white walls, a single bed, an armchair, a desk, a bedside table, a light at just the right angle over the bed, a window that opened onto a garden and a sink. I noted that there were no mirrors. What a simple way to live. Really all one needs. I am not one who adores simplicity usually, but this room struck me as perfect!
The rest of the grounds contained lovely walking paths, gardens, a small straw bale studio, lots and lots of blossoming plants and trees, tables and chairs in sun and shade.
Perhaps the best part of all was a studio in the basement to make art. There was every art supply you might imagine, hundreds of books about making all kinds of art. Lots and lots of art made by people who left it for others to see. The walls were painted with poems and quotes about art. In the entryway, suspended from the ceiling were dozens and dozens of origami cranes that gently blew as the air stirred. I spent every spare moment in this space – amusing myself and playing from my heart!
The retreat itself was a poetry writing retreat, led by the poet Kim Stafford. He is the son of poet William Stafford and his own poetry and other writings are truly beautiful and from the heart. The whole retreat was held in silence excerpt when we were actually in a session with Kim.
So, all of us wanted to move in! And as Kim mentioned, it was hard to get us to leave when the retreat was over. But what he sent us off with was the charge that each of us need to find our own Santa Sabina in our own daily life. I am going to try!
Finding An Inner Sanctuary
A place or a time
when your soul
The welcome of flowers
A small bell to ring,
something beautiful to see
A place of comfort
of invitation to yourself.
Books of poetry
A cup of tea
A blank page
A good pen.
A sparsely serene setting
with one candle.
And, if this is not possible,
a tiny place
where your soul
can paint imaginary
scenes and you can
pray to be opened
you deeply know.
And here is a lovely poem by Kim Stafford for you;
For the Bird Singing Before Dawn
Some people presume to be hopeful when there is no evidence for hope, to be happy when there is no cause. Let me say now, I’m with them.
In deep darkness on a cold twig in a dangerous world, one first little fluff lets out a peep, a warble, a song—and in a little while, behold:
the first glimmer comes, then a glow filters through the misty trees, then the bold sun rises, then everyone starts bustling about.
And that first crazy optimist, can we forgive her for thinking, dawn by dawn, “Hey, I made that happen! And oh, life is so fine.”