A retreat is time set aside from daily life to deepen your relationship with God. Silence in a retreat helps me stay focused on an interior dialogue with the Lord — as does putting my phone on airplane mode and not looking at it. I’m sharing some photos and reflections from my recent retreat at Longlea Conference Center, in the Virginia countryside outside of Culpeper.
Longlea is managed by the Catholic organization Opus Dei. Retreats are directed by an Opus Dei priest and members of Opus Dei. Men’s and women’s retreats are separate; both are silent. Each retreat takes place over several days. The schedule includes reflections by a priest on spiritual themes, often based on recent Gospel readings, talks by lay persons on the practical application of virtues, daily Mass, devotions such as the Rosary, Stations of the Cross, and Benediction, and plenty of time for meditation and private prayer. Confession and spiritual direction are available as well. Meals are family-style and beautifully prepared and served by the staff. Silence is maintained during meals, except for short necessary phrases such as “please pass the salt.” A spiritual book on tape plays during meals to encourage reflection. There are plenty of quiet nooks and crannies to read and pray, as well as trails, a terrace overlooking a stream, and a prayer garden inside boxwood hedges.
I’m blessed in that I enjoy a lot of silence and prayer time while I travel and live in my Airstream. Even so, having a few days set aside solely for the purpose of devotions, reflections, and spiritual reading and direction is like a spa for the soul. The purpose of a retreat in part is to examine your own life, your relationships, and work in terms of your faith. A good retreat helps you develop resolutions particular to your own spiritual journey that help you draw closer to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in your daily life. It’s not just rest or a vacation: it is a workout and cleansing for the soul.
This was my first retreat since moving into my Airstream travel trailer full-time. My small dog, Penny, accompanied me as she does very poorly when boarded and my usual dog-sitters were not available. An elderly Chihuahua, she is quite happy with a few long walks per day. She’s used to spending time in the Airstream by herself napping. Even though I reserved a room in the comfortable conference center, I opted to stay with her in our mobile tiny home parked along a gravel drive near the parking lot. This let us enjoy a stunning sunrise, a field full of brilliant fireflies at night, and an early morning surprise visit by some deer. Best of all, my furry roommate did not tempt me to break silence by chatting with her as I might have had I roomed with another woman attending the retreat!
Other places I’ve been on retreat are the Apostolate for Family Consecration in Bloomingdale, OH; Malvern Retreat House in Malvern, PA; Murray Hill Conference Center in New York City; and the San Damiano Spiritual Life Center in White Post, VA. All were productive and lovely in their own way. Now that I’m traveling so much, I will be visiting other retreat centers across the country. The elements of a good retreat remain the same in any location: prayer, learning, reflection and self-examination, development of goals and resolutions — preferably with the help of a good spiritual director — and growing in God’s life and love. May you be blessed to enjoy a retreat yourself soon!