Taking Time Away – Mary Elizabeth Ilg

It has been a while since I have gone on retreat.  That’s okay—we’ve been pretty busy re-opening the Benedictine Center and getting things off the ground after being closed for eighteen months during the pandemic.  The Benedictine Center re-opened on September 1, 2021 and we have been very happy to see many of our guests returning!

It has been, exactly, four months since I stayed at my friend’s cabin near Birchwood, Wisconsin last October.  I had planned to go back this President’s Day weekend, but a monster snowstorm is coming to town, so I will have to wait.  My friend’s cabin in Wisconsin has high floor-to-ceiling windows where you can watch clouds move across the sky all day, like great white ships.  There are also eagles that fly by.  Suddenly, an enormous bald eagle will flash across the expansive view, gliding on massive black wings.  Did that just happen?  God sends such glorious signs to us, signals of encouragement:  you’re on the right path.  Keep going.  I am here. 


I had been a little reluctant to go, anyway, and leave my husband, the cozy fireplace, and our comfortable thirty-year ritual of watching the Olympics together.  So I stayed home and we watched Pairs’ Figure Skating:  so romantic, graceful, with the breath-taking lifts, spins, and especially the backward outside Death Spiral, where the woman’s head is inches off the ice, as she lies nearly flat and is spun around in looping circles by her partner.

Today, before the snow arrives on President’s Day, we will enjoy a rare day of balmy 40 degrees in the Twin Cities.  My revised plan for a mini-retreat is to drive up north just for the day, to my family’s land in Pine County, Minnesota, where we have a camper.  This is not luxurious like my friend’s cabin, but I can be outside and see the sky.  This is what makes my heart swell:  I can see the whole sky, facing east, the horizon line beyond the distant perimeter of many trees.  The color of the horizon line changes throughout the day, from bright blue to pale aqua to softer white.  It finishes up as a rosy pink.  I know few things more beautiful than this view.


Taking time away periodically from work and other family and household duties is necessary to maintain what is now called “work-life balance.”  The truth is when you are in a place of such silence and beauty, in the midst of awe-inspiring nature, you can stop thinking about your email, your multi-tabbed to-do list, the undone laundry at home or how you forgot to schedule your daughter’s orthodontist appointment.  All of that constant mental chatter stops for a while.  What a blessed relief. 

It is essential to take this precious time away.  Many of us have our favorite retreat rooms at the Benedictine Center.  I know I have mine.  This is the room where I spent five sacred days during the School of Lectio Divina in 2018 discerning God’s voice through Scripture, practicing centering prayer (for the first time) and reflecting on Professor Kathleen Cahalan’s teaching where I heard, Yes, you can learn to let go of your afflictions!  The silence of that room, the walls saturated with peace, and especially a small painting hanging over the desk of another wooded landscape with horizon line done by Sister Veronica Novotny, founder of the Benedictine Center, also makes my heart swell.  In her painting, the sun is coming up over a dark fringe of trees.  Or is it the moon?  You can decide. 

In another favorite room at the Benedictine Center which faces the courtyard, I once saw three deer slowly emerge from the trees in the early morning, looking for food.  I sat in the rocking chair to watch them through the window.  Quietly, they stepped through the wet grass, their black noses touching the ground.  At another time, in another year, I was entertained by a highly colorful gaggle of wild turkeys as they paraded through the courtyard, flashing their bright feathers and preening their fan-like tails.  They called out to one another with urgent, silly gobbles.


We invite you to consider joining us for the School of Lectio Divina, March 18-23, 2022.  A few spots still remain. We also invite you to book your individual or group retreat at the Benedictine Center to enjoy the sacred space, the holy presence, and most of all, the silence.  This is a place where you can listen to God’s voice with the ear of your heart, as Saint Benedict says, and find the direction you seek, the consolation you need, or just get away from your phone and the frantic over-scheduled business of life.  We look forward to welcoming you soon. 

May God bless you and keep you until then.

Painting by Sister Veronica Novotny, founder of the Benedictine Center

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