Ever since I made my first spiritual retreat almost 40 years ago, I’ve enjoyed spending time each year on guided, directed or private retreats.
I’ve often wondered why I need to go anywhere, since I can do just about anything I do on retreat, praying, reflecting, writing, walking and enjoying the scenery, right here in Rockport.
But when I made a private retreat several years ago at Bethany Spirituality Center near Bear Mountain, N.Y., I discovered that a retreat was not a time for “doing;” it was a time for just “being” who I was and where I was.
At home, I was busy with things I had to “do” like shop, cook and clean, as well as stuff I spend too much time on, like TV and e-mails. At Bethany, everything I needed was provided. All I had to do was show up – in the dining room, the chapel, walking the grounds, even rowing a boat on their lake.
Since then, I’ve made other private retreats and each time, experienced something that recharged and renewed me, including the companionship of kindred spirits.
A few months ago, a Rockport friend told me about the Marie Joseph Spiritual Center in Biddeford Pool, Maine, and after seeing an aerial photo online, I made a reservation for a private retreat there from June 29 to July 6.
My room was on the fourth floor with an ocean view, open to cool breezes and the sounds of the sea. Daily Mass as well as morning and evening prayer were optional activities provided by the Sisters of the Presentation of Mercy, but most of the time, I was outdoors exploring the grounds and the neighborhood.
Herons, egrets and water lilies could be found in ponds on both sides of the house, several birdfeeders attracted a variety of birds and deer were often seen on the grounds. It was a photographer’s paradise and I took hundreds of shots, walking along the beach at dawn or later in the day through a Nature Sanctuary with a view of the Wood Island Lighthouse across the bay.
After several days of strong winds off the ocean, I decided to try flying the kite I keep in the trunk of my car. It’s a large kite and as I carried it along the path from the house to the platform on the beach, I wondered if I’d remember how to put it together.
Kneeling on the deck, I installed the spines along the top of the wings but had trouble inserting them into pockets further down.
Finally, Bob and Clara came along to help me and eventually a giant butterfly flew high above the Beach Roses, attracting others who had seen it from the porch. We took turns holding the handle tightly as the kite tugged and pulled its way upwards but when the string was fully out, the kite hovered high above us and my spirit soared with it.
Moments like that are worth remembering. Toward the end of the week, someone noticed a turtle laying eggs after digging a hole on the lawn and before long, several of us saw her cover the eggs with dirt and move faster than I thought turtles could move toward a pond.
What’s the difference between a “retreat” and a “vacation?” For over 20 years, my vacations have consisted of Elderhostel programs, mostly downhill skiing with companions who enjoy active sports. Retreats involve something deeper than just having fun; they remind me of the importance of taking the time to count my blessings wherever I am and whatever I’m doing.
I’m still savoring the peace and joy I found in Maine and hope I’ve shared some of it with you.
Eileen Ford is a Rockport resident and a regular Times columnist.