Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Solitude Retreat

I was blessed enough to be given permission to spend my retreat this year away from the Motherhouse.  I consider it a great grace.  I decided to spend a week in a place called Bethlehem Hermitage in Chester, NJ.  It's a perfect place for what I was looking for even though my original choice was the Hermits of Carmel hermitage right next to Bethlehem.  The Carmelites do not offer retreats since they have no available hermitages.  Preached and Directed retreats are fine but they can get me distracted.

God is in the solitude and He speaks in silence and in silence He must be heard.  St. Teresa used to say that prayer is being with a friend, and in this particular case, a Friend who loves us so as to desire to lead us into the desert as the prophet Hosea says: "I will allure her into the desert and speak to her heart."  In a nutshell that was my experience.  But along with the holy, I also experienced the silly.  Without ruining the spiritual nature of the retreat, I will share with you some laughable moments which I should be ashamed to recount but I will nonetheless!
What can I tell you about my seven days in the desert?  All the time it made me think and reflect of the early hermits on Mount Carmel in Palestine over 800 years ago.  For this was exactly the type of life they led.  The early Carmelites were eremitical; they spent most of their time in prayer and meditation in their caves and met only for the Sacrifice of the Mass.  My experience gave me a renewed love of our Holy Order of Carmel.
Since God did not call me to a life of absolute withdrawal from the world and silence but to a life of ministry to our beloved elderly, I am at least grateful that He had shown me a "wadi" where I could refresh myself like our Holy Father St. Elijah in Mount Horeb. (1 Kings 19:1-7).  Before I proceed with the delights of silence and solitude, let me share with you the silly reactions I had which you might find amusing.  On my first three days in my hermitage, my imagination was on full gear.  The hermitage, situated in the middle of the woods, made me feel like a frontier woman.  I looked out the forest trees and I imagined savage Mohawks peeking out of the bushes!  I also imagined having a starving bear at my doorstep at night while I was asleep.  Or find the sorts of creatures you'd find in the forest like snakes, salamanders, spiders, etc possibly finding entrance into my little cottage in the dark of night.  Or worse yet, could it happen that an escaped prisoner might just have been hiding in this particular Chester forest and would notice my light in the dark of night?  Aside from earnest prayers rising up to heaven, I also took refuge in the Tylenol-PM tablets to lull me to sleep so I could be oblivious to what was happening around me!  When I read the passage in the Gospel of St. Mark about Jesus in the desert with the wild beasts, I thought of the creatures of my imagination as my wild beasts!  But I'm happy to report that after the third night I slept like a babe with no worry about anything.  I was then able to open myself more to the still small voice within and around me.
The Scriptures were my constant companion.  Retreatants were not allowed to bring any other book even spiritual ones.  I read mostly the commentaries on the Book of Kings from Jerusalem Bible and it became my spiritual meat.  The readings reminded me that of the many Kings Israel had, only three really found favor in God's eyes: David, Hezekiah and Josiah.  It reminded me that even if there are only two people who love God and obey His commandments, these two can make a difference.  It's a lesson to our day.  The Parallel Gospels were also another source of spiritual insights.  The time alone with my Spouse in the quiet was precious as He reminded me once again the meaning of my consecration to Him.  The liturgy as celebrated by the hermits was another pearl.  The slow rhythm of reciting the Office, the 20 minutes contemplative prayer after Holy Communion (to replace the homily) and the daily Hourly Eucharistic Adoration, were all means of finding God again.  It's funny I just said that.  Solitude retreat is really not about us finding God, but God finding us!  In the busy schedule of our lives we somehow "get lost."  St. John of the Cross said: "If a soul is looking for God, the more God is looking for the soul."  There is so much more to share but this will suffice for now.  The secrets of the King is better enjoyed in the silence of one's heart.
Enjoy some of the photos!

(Article also found on "Just For Today" blog.


  1. What a beautiful place! What a treat this must have been!
    Thank you for sharing it here.

  2. You're welcome, Claire. It was truly a blessing. Thanks be to God!

  3. can some one who spent some time here tell me more
    about it? Can one spend longer time?
    What are the fees.
    I am a widower in his 80s and lost my beloved about 18 months ago. I was completely lost and the only place I felt at home was a Adoremus Chapel where my sister lives. I feel like I have no home on this earth anymore and feel more at home visiting a Chapel, yes even though
    I fall asleep.

  4. I am totally captivated by your story as it really speaks to my heart. I have had the desire to live in a place like this all my life and did not know that this place existed. I grew up with a desire for solitude and silence. I do not have experience in religious life but I am longing for the life of a hermit to live totally alone for God and the salvation of souls. Can you provide information on entry requirements.

    my email
    I would be very grateful for a reply

    1. I am a Third Order person under the Minim Friars. I have sort of lost my way but I'm going back to my Catholic Roots. By that I mean silence and solitude. Do everything with compassion; it is the magical elixir of life. Be a blessing to others and forget about yourself. Live so simple a life that people don't even notice you. Compassion.

  5. Whats the address of the monastery?

  6. Bethlehem Hermitage
    82 Pleasant Hill Road, Chester, NJ 07930
    (908) 879-7059

  7. Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.~khalil gibran

  8. God bless you, Sister. Blessings to you on your retreat this week.

  9. What time will Mass be on October 15 please at the Hermitage of Carmel?