by Kate French
TIME FLIES, as we all know. I have just surprised myself by doing the math and discovering it was 18 years ago that I first personally discovered the Long Silent Retreat held each June on the campus of the DeKoven Foundation for Church Work.
My mother, an Associate of the Sisters of the Community of St. Mary, had attended this retreat for as far back as my memory extends. When I became an adult, she often invited me to attend, but it was always “too difficult” to leave my children, my husband, my home, my work, or whatever else took precedence in my life. Truthfully, I think the “silence” scared me; after all, I am a “talker”!
Then came the year everything crashed for me. Our family was facing a move I didn’t particularly want to make. A move to Oklahoma, which seemed as far from Iowa, my friends of twenty plus years, my church, and the life I knew as the other side of the world. I attended the Retreat as I felt my heart needed “healing” to move forward into this new stage of my life. The quiet and calm rhythm of the days of the Retreat soothed my soul and was just what I needed. Time for prayer and reflection led to prayers of thanksgiving for this job opportunity in unemployment. I left knowing God would be with me, supporting me and blessing me in this time of personal transition. I had found solace in stillness and strength to face my future. As a result of the move, I found God truly does bring good from all things as I went on to have four good years in Oklahoma, blessed with many friends and wonderful church experiences. Ever since, I have returned to DeKoven every summer for just such a renewal of spirit.
This Retreat, once sponsored by the Sisters and now by the DeKoven Foundation for Church Work, is magical in itself, almost as if we have taken a step into another world. Everyone senses this. The property itself was first founded in the mid-1800’s as Racine College, and all the buildings date to that era, a quadrangle of stone buildings with a Gothic chapel in the center, following the pattern of universities in England. When the college closed during the Great Depression, the Community of St. Mary purchased it so that they could continue their ministry of providing summer camps for young girls from Chicago’s inner city. Later, under their guidance, it became the first nationally recognized Episcopal House of Retreat. Today the ministry of the DeKoven Center, located in Racine, Wisconsin, is secular as well as religious, but the campus and its spirit remains as it always has been, a place removed from the world around it.
The silence of the Retreat is not overwhelming as I once feared it would be. The silence is, as I was told, “a gift we make to each other.” A gift of no awkward conversation with people you don’t know, no busyness, no endless chatter of the mind, but truly a rest in our days, a rest of body and mind, a rest in our Father above.
The days follow the pattern of the St. Benedictine monks: work and prayer. We follow the daily offices and are led through a series of presentations that help us focus each year on a chosen topic, this year – “Silence, God’s Original Language.” Our retreat leader, Fr. Brian Hastings, Rector of the Church of Our Saviour, Chicago, helps us explore and reflect on new areas of our lives. This is our work. Our prayer is based on a daily round of Morning Prayer, Eucharist, Evening Prayer and Compline. This prayer fits with all backgrounds and walks of life, and quickly creates a sense of community for all of us. There is also the blessing of unstructured time to allow for personal reflection, journaling, walking, reading, napping, however a person chooses to spend the time. The campus of the DeKoven Center is located right on Lake Michigan and is inviting just to “be in,” and is a wonderfully spiritual and refreshing place to walk and sit. At the close of day and however we chose to spend it, we enter our “own” evening time of rest. IMAGINE, no dictates on our time!! Doing just what we feel is best for us!
Attendance at anything is optional, and the silence is not “absolute,” in that if you have a question or need, it is always fine to ask. As said before, the silence simply becomes the gift we are giving to and receiving from those sharing this experience with us. We don’t have to be engaging or interacting. We can just be ourselves and be with God. Fellowship brackets these days on either side so we do get to know those with whom we share the Retreat, but the time between is OUR time with God and ourselves to be used however we wish. A nap in the middle of the day, a walk by Lake Michigan, a time to curl up with a book under a tree on the grounds or in the ancient library, a time to stitch, a time to write, a time for prayer, a time to just BE, with no demands. A time with our self and with God. What a wonderful recharge of our very spirits. We all leave with the benefits of rest with God, and leave to live our lives with a renewed spirit.
I was able to bring two friends with me to DeKoven this past summer and we still talk about the wonderful experience. They plan to return with me in 2017. This wonderful experience is here for anyone. I invite you to come for all three days or come for just one, as your time or finances allow. The fee covers lodging, food, and unending cups of coffee and tea. (Some financial assistance may be available.) Your soul will thank you for the beautiful nourishment you will feel when you leave. Pencil in June 11-15, 2017, on your calendar for next summer. Discuss it with yourself, your family, and God.
I hope you find you can join us.
Kate French hails from Clinton, MO in the diocese of Western Missouri
All images by Kate French