A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go to Pacem in Terris, where I did a silent retreat!
Pacem is a place of peace, quiet, and solitude, with little hermitages spread throughout their beautiful Minnesota land. I had been craving this retreat for over 3 years as a young mom in the chaos of little, messy, but unbelievably adorable people. So, shortly after my son was not breastfeeding anymore, I immediately took advantage of my new freedom and spent two nights at Pacem!
My mother in law has been there many times, but it had been about ten years, so I asked if she wanted to come with me. We called a couple weeks in advanced to book our spots and marked our calendars.
We packed our bags and did the one hour drive together. When we arrived, we were welcome by a couple staff, who then each drove us to our separate hermitages. On the drive to the hermitage, I was asked us if there were any prayer requests that I had, but I was extremely distracted by how breathtaking the woods were. Much of the snow was still around, and it was one of the first warm days. You could hear the melting and water dripping. Everything, including myself, was coming alive after a cold, dark, long, long winter.
My hermitage was called St. Francis of Assisi. It was the farthest hermitage from the community house, Our Lady of Pacem. The walk was only about 10-15 minutes, but I liked the feeling of being way out there with nothing but the birds. I didn’t have to share the outhouse with anyone, but I could distantly see the next hermitage, St. Clare of Assisi.
We were given a basket of food: bread, a muffin, cheese, apples, bananas, and oranges. I also brought granola bars and some chocolate to snack on. In the closet there were things like dishes, towels, blankets, a flashlight, tissues, candles, whatever you might need. There was a mailbox outside that the staff checked once a day. I could ask for more food, leave a prayer request, and RSVP for dinner. Just place your note under the rock and put the flag up!
The hermitages have gas for heat, a lamp, and a burner for a tea pot!
I thought I would do a lot of walking on the trails through the woods, the prairie, and near the lake. I thought I would sit on the benches on the trails and the chairs on the boardwalks to have time of prayer, but I was tired, so very tired. Two tots 18 months apart, both not planned, both debilitating, painful pregnancies. So very tired.
My days had an easy schedule.
Wake up to the sun shining.
Get ready for the day.
Eat something from my basket of food.
Do Morning Prayer, which I talk about in the Scripture talk on the virtual Lent Retreat.
I sat in the wooden rocking chair. I drank (a lot of) coffee. I watched and listened to the animals. It felt very Franciscan, especially since I was in the hermitage of St. Francis! There were squirrels, sparrows, geese, eagles, swans, even coyotes! With their company outside my window, I mostly spent my time rocking in the chair and pondering. I pondered and experienced healing from the past 3 years. I pondered the present. I pondered the near future, and the distant future. Sometimes I’d read some Mother Teresa. I’d pray with my Blessed is She Lent journal. I’d pour over the Gospel of John. I ate when I was hungry. I slept when I was tired. I actually slept a lot. Each night I got around 10-12 hours of sleep, and I napped an hour or two each day. I told you I was tired!
Dinner was at the main house at 5:30 each evening. So before I left, I would do Evening Prayer, then go on a leisurely walk and arrive to dinner early to pray in the chapel and visit the library, (and a real bathroom!)
At dinner I would meet the loveliest people and chat chat chat until I realized that I was the last at the table to finish my meal. One by one, a hermit would finish their humble meal, their simple dessert, their evening cup of coffee, say their goodbyes, and head back to solitude before the sun went down.
On my walk back to St. Francis, I would feel full, full of conversation and socializing, full of peace and joy, and full of food, with heavy sleepy eyes. It wasn’t even 8pm yet! I’d wind down, get ready for bed, and do Night Prayer. Then I’d read or pray until it was dark. I’d step outside one last time to use the bathroom. I could distantly see the candlelit windows of St. Clare, then look up at the sky and see the bright glistening stars. Then it would be time to rest.
When it is the last day of the retreat, it is time for one of my favorite parts! We are asked to prayerful clean and prepare the hermitage for the next person. Just like the connection I love about the Liturgy of the Hours and the Mass, I love the feeling of connection with all of the people who have stayed here and who will be staying here.
When all of my things were packed and the hermitage clean, I walked back to the main house, and a staff and I drove back to grab my things. I gave back the basket with a donation (Pacem only takes freewill offerings!) found my mother in law in the main house, and we were on our way back home!
When I got back home, I saw that Peter and the kids survived. Kidding, they did great! Peter would be a wonderful stay at home dad. And I was overjoyed to hug and kiss everyone and be back with my family.
Pacem was a beautiful, peaceful experience, and I can’t wait to hopefully come back next year. Who knows what this next year will look like!