This is exceptional: an op-ed piece in The New York Times, in which a woman writes of the powerful experience of being on retreat, noting, “There is something powerful about being in the presence of faith when you yourself are doubting.”
Three years ago this week, I was a guest at a cloistered Catholic abbey in rural Connecticut. I spent my days in near-silence, waking before dawn for Mass, working the farm alongside nuns in full habit. When bells rang at regular intervals, all work ceased so that the nuns could chant in Latin.
In the past 12 months, I’ve found myself returning again and again in my mind. I long for the quiet, the natural beauty, the sense of timelessness there.
It has been a year. I gave birth to my first child in June, the greatest joy of my life. But I worry about the world we brought him into. I wake each morning with a pit in my stomach, afraid to see what new bile the president tweeted while I slept. The worst mass shooting in modern American history occurred two months ago, and it seems that bad news piles up so fast that we’ve all but forgotten it. My parents got divorced this year. A dear friend was handed a cruel diagnosis. The image of that starving polar bear making the rounds on Facebook will never leave my mind. I still haven’t finished my Christmas shopping, and I didn’t buy Bitcoin in 2015 when my college friend’s cousin’s husband told me to.
At a time when the country is painfully divided, it’s a comfort to cast myself back to the abbey, to the cozy guesthouse where I stayed with a handful of women from all walks of life. We bonded as we sat chatting and reading in the lamp-lit living room. We were expected to be in for the night after 7:30 prayers and to avoid the distractions of cellphones and the internet. No typing was allowed. I found myself writing in a journal by hand for the first time in years.
My younger self would never have believed I was there by choice.
You never know how God is going to work.