I spent a couple of days in retreat at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado this week. I withdrew, recoiled, left, fled, drew back, ran away, gave some distance to most of what is usual and normal for me; hiding in a comfortable little hermitage overlooking the 3,000 acres the brothers who live and pray and work there oversee. Much of the monastery grounds is used for grazing cattle and growing/selling hay these days. The pasture land is leased now, the brothers no longer raise cattle, but some do continue to work the hay fields. There was once a large egg production venture at the monastery, which fell out of prophet and favor in the 1970’s. These days the brothers support themselves through the sale of hay, holy hospitality through their retreat house and hermitages, and interestingly enough through the sale of cookies; online and at the gift shop in their main house. I highly recommend the orange, almond, butter cookies.
I try to get lost, retreat to St.Benedict’s at least once each year, especially during Lent. The simple solitude, the quiet, the pastures and mountain views, even for a couple of days, renew and steady my balance, and I sense that God finds me, notices me, favors me, and I am reminded what I am all about. Finally feeling disconnected from the usual and normal I settle in – then complete my first spiritual exercise, I always step outside my assigned hermitage and yell out over the pastures, “Well, God. Here I am! (“Harrison’s back,” the brothers probably say.)
It does not take long for me to be reminded I’d make a lousy monk. I probably take too much of my most appreciated creature comforts along, especially books. This time it was a small book by C.S. Lewis (The Great Divorce) one of his I had not read; so well recommended that I read it the afternoon I moved in St. Bernard Hermitage. A new book of the life and times of 100 saints of the church and society; I’m a “saint junky.” And just to make sure the ancient classics of theology can still hold my attention I read and made notes on Justin Martyr’s First Christian Apology (written sometime around 160 A.D.) well into each night – “Justice is inquiry, not punishment!! Never mind.
From my readings I came away with this from C. S Lewis: “Every poet, musician, artist, but for grace, is drawn away from the love of the thing he tells, to the love of telling, and suddenly they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about God. They sink lower – becoming interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations. Ouch! Suddenly, I had something to reflect on while disappearing.
Of course the “thing” I tell about is God, but I am ever-interested in God, I love God, I tell of my love for God, and I do wish to be favored and noticed by God – my prayer time made that clear.
Here’s the thing to remember: God favors all of us. God notices us all the time – solitary retreat not required.
God notices us and favors us, wherever we are, whomever we are with, while we go about our “usual and normal” at home, work, and school, God takes us in.