By Cathy Bolkcom
Our lives are so incredibly busy these days. The demands and pleasures of work, family and personal interests — not to mention the overwhelming amount of information bombarding us every day — can make life feel unmanageable.
Time for quiet or solitude seems impossible. Increasingly, the world has become a very loud place, with people seemingly shouting at us from all quarters about all manner of things.
This is why I have made a practice for years of spending time throughout the year at Our Lady of the Prairie. The Sisters of Humility of Davenport sponsor this retreat center as a way to provide hospitality in a sacred space that promotes respect for creation in the tradition of the Sisters. It is a refuge for my beleaguered spirit. I can connect with and rejuvenate my spiritual core at this lovely, modern retreat center attached to an original farmhouse on a rural property north of Big Rock (about 30 minutes from Davenport). I feel a million miles away from the noise and obligations of our modern life. I completely unplug from the world, leaving behind my computer, email, voicemail, texts, TV and even radio to spend several days in quiet and solitude when I go for a private retreat.
I have a very busy life — I enjoy nothing more than several days in a row where I can literally not see or talk to another person. I write, sleep and eat simply (though one can have meals prepared by the staff). I meditate, read and walk the magnificent grounds — acres of paths that crisscross the acreage, past the pond, around the prairies and through the trees — with nothing to listen to but the sounds of the natural world.
I have also attended excellent, guided retreats and programs at Our Lady of the Prairie. Two come to mind: an overnight retreat with a group led by Rev. Jean Norton and Mona Terry of Heartsounds, two incredibly talented musicians who explore the boundary between music and spirituality; and a one-day program led by Rev. Becky David on the “Wheel of Life,” which explores the cycle of spiritual growth throughout life. One of the things I appreciate is that one need not be of a particular faith or religion to take advantage of all the retreat center has to offer.
One of my favorite spots is the outdoor labyrinth made of rock and gravel where I can practice a walking meditation, carrying an intention as I travel around the sacred geometry of the path, winding into the center of the spiral. I pause and reflect on a stone bench at the center, mindfully attending to the grace of the present moment and then winding my way back through the labyrinth to where I started.
This is a wonderful metaphor for what a retreat, guided or private, can offer: a time out of the busy-ness of our lives to simply be quiet and present and to see what comes. As Thich Nhat Hanh says: “Smile, breathe and go slowly.”
I try to take a sense of that space home with me after my respites at Our Lady of the Prairie.
(Cathy Bolkcom is a chaplain, community activist and artist who lives in LeClaire.)