5 safe, mid-winter retreats for spiritual seekers, Benedictine Oblates, and anyone who wants to nurture a sacred way of life during the pandemic

  • This article will:
    * Explain why making a retreat can be a positive, life-transforming experience;
    * Provide details about 5 upcoming pandemic-safe retreats for seekers, oblates, and anyone seeking to nurture a sacred way of life (4 visual retreats + 1 stay-at-home, ebook-guided retreat);
    * Offer help for deciding which retreat is best for you through a link to an article I wrote earlier, “Listen with the ear of your heart to make up your mind: a Benedictine process for spiritual discernment.”

Why make a retreat? Retreats Nurture a Sacred Way of Life

If you’re looking for rest and renewal, a chance to get away, a break from the ordinary schedule, time to do what you want, or the chance to explore new perspectives—you might take a vacation. Yet all too often, people come back from vacation having experienced fun, togetherness, adventure (and probably a fair amount of frustration). And they’re exhausted. The planning, packing, going, doing, returning, unpacking, and jumping back into the same old routine took tremendous energy and a lot of money. Where was the rest and renewal, the sense that something important happened to make daily life look different–more doable and meaningful? And these days, with the pandemic still threatening our safety, taking a vacation may be entirely out of the question.

So we amuse ourselves with entertainments–games, shows, hobbies. Entertainment distracts us from our problems, concerns, hurts, and discomforts. But entertainment rarely enriches our relationships or helps us build meaningful, creative lives. Does entertainment enable us grow into better people? Usually not.  

If you’re looking for the benefits you want from a vacation without the exhaustion, if you want the get-away of entertainment with the bonus of spiritual enrichment, you might choose to make a retreat. Paradoxically, a retreat is significantly less expensive than most vacations, but provides more rest, renewal, and opportunity for coming back to our daily lives transformed. Retreats have helped me create a life I don’t want to escape from, but instead, want to live fully immersed within.  

Retreats provide rest and relaxation, an oasis for your spirit, a place to hear what you really think, time and space to get touch with the secrets of your heart, where you will find something larger than yourself (a higher power, or God) waiting there to love you and guide you. Making a retreat allows you to listen to your inner wisdom. It gives your mind time to explore new perspectives. It can also inspire and equip you to structure your life to include regular soul-nurturing spaces. 

If you’re open to spiritual transformation or want to nurture a sacred way of life, I recommend these 4 upcoming online / virtual retreats.

4 excellent online / virtual spiritual retreats

I personally know all of these retreat facilitators. Through Saint Benedict’s Monastery, where my husband and I are oblates, I have experienced generous, open-hearted hospitality from these guides. I have benefited from their wisdom, and I have witnessed their compassion and reverence for every individual’s spiritual journey. I am privileged to call all of these facilitators my friends–but I am not sharing these retreats as a favor to them. Instead, this is my gift to you. These people have richly blessed my life, and I am confident that if you choose to make a retreat with them, your life will be spiritually enriched.

About the initials: OSB means Order of Saint Benedict and indicates the person is a professed Benedictine nun or monk. OblSB stands for Oblate of Saint Benedict.

1) Being Benedictine in the New Normal

a 3-week Monasteries of the Heart e-course with Judith Valente, OblSB
cost: $20
February 1-19, 2021
Recommended for: people who want online forum interaction with a large, international community of like-minded seekers/learners;
those seeking practical help in incorporating and maintaining Benedictine spiritual practices in daily life.
Commitment: flexible, between 5 and 9 or more hours spread over 3 weeks, with up to six months to complete the readings.

Judith Valente is an award-winning author, poet and journalist and Oblate of Mount St. Scholastica Monastery in Atchison, KS. She is a former staff writer for The Wall Street Journal and on-air religion correspondent for PBS-TV. She is the author of several spirituality titles, including How to Live: What The Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us about Happiness, Meaning and CommunityAtchison Blue: A Search for Silence, A Spiritual Home and A Living Faith; and The Art of Pausing: Meditations for the Overworked and Overwhelmed, as well as two collections of poetry.

This e-Course is offered by Monasteries of the Heart, an online community of 10,000 international members who receive formation in the core elements of monastic life—prayer, lectio (sacred reading), good works, study and community—through a website created and managed by members of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA. According to their recent announcement, participants in this retreat will explore the essential spiritual questions of our time: how do we nurture our inner-monks, while being distanced from our monasteries and spiritual communities? How do we incorporate Benedictine values into the particular challenges of our “new normal”? Topics include: The Gift of Stability, A 21st Century Vision of Community, Re-Imagining Hospitality, and more. Judith brings a heartfelt passion for the timeless value of Benedictine practices, tempered by a busy journalist’s acceptance of the reality of life, to all her retreats and courses. She has modeled for me a balanced and practical way to increase my awareness of life’s sacred moments, while offering real help in the battle against perfectionism and discouragement.

You will receive 3 emails a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, with new content to explore and respond to. Additionally, you will have access to eCourse content for six months after it concludes. To register, please visit this course webpage or contact Katie Gordon at info@monasteriesoftheheart.org.

Note: A free membership account is required at Monasteries of the Heart to register.

Learn more about Judith Valente on her website: https://www.judithvalente.com/

2) Walking inside yourself: a winter solitude

a 1-day Cloister Seminars zoom retreat with Drs. Almut Furchert and Chuck Huff, OblSB
Pay What You Can
Saturday, February 20, 2021 10 AM – 4 PM
Recommended for: those with a deep love for learning and profound desire for the Sacred;
people who love poetry, classical music, and thoughtful conversation;
those facing transitions due to birth, death, illness; marriage, divorce or break-up, job loss or retirement.
Commitment: fixed, 6 hours.

Almut and Chuck are married scholars who provide Cloister Seminars as an online platform “which hopes to provide a breathing space for fellow seekers.” They seek to “cultivate, deepen and share our interest in wisdom traditions and teachings across ages and continents; …facilitate the dialogue between mind and heart, and….explore together how the contemplative life and contemplating life can sustain and replenish our soul’s journey.”

Almut Furchert, Ph.D. holds graduate degrees in philosophy of religion (Dr. phil.), psychology (Dipl. Psych.) and adult education from German universities. Chuck Huff, Ph.D. is a professor of social psychology at Saint Olaf College, MN, with extensive study in philosophy and religion. They both “are committed to an open minded search for a lived truth in a deeper self, and have made the Benedictine monastic tradition our spiritual home (while still cherishing our protestant, and ecumenical heritage and interfaith interests).” 

They tell me “this winter solitude day will be structured by guided practices for personal reflection, sustained by the poetry of writers such as Rilke, Kierkegaard and others to guide you into a time of solitude and reflection of what has been and what is yet to come.” I have participated in many of their online retreats, and every time have experienced a healing, comforting, and liberating personal encounter with timeless Wisdom, always leading to an ever-deepening love for learning, and an acceptance of the birth-pains associated with growth. Almut and Chuck embody the beauty and joy of philosophia (the Greek word for philosophy) and bring authentic, Benedictine humility to the sharing of their scholarship.

Use the form on this page to reserve your space before Feb 1.

Learn more about Drs Almut Furchert, Chuck Huff, and Cloister Seminars at www.cloisterseminars.org

3) Among the Ashes: an Ash Wednesday Morning of Reflection

a Spirituality Center | Studium virtual retreat with Jessie Bazan, OblSB
fee: $40
Ash Wednesday, February 17, 9-11:30 AM
Recommended for: busy people with limited time;
those interested in making Ash Wednesday personally meaningful while connecting with other seekers in real time;
people who want to hear from a feminist, millennial theologian.
Commitment: fixed, 2.5 hours.

Jessie Bazan, M.Div., helps Christians explore their life callings in her work with the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research. She is editor and coauthor of Dear Joan Chittister: Conversations with Women in the Church (Twenty-Third Publications) and a columnist for U.S. Catholic magazine.

Jessie will set the theme for the Ash Wednesday reflection, leading participants into off-screen reflection time. The retreat ends with a final time of sharing and prayer. My conversations with Jessie have shown me her attentive, listening heart. I am confident this short retreat will help participants embrace the challenges of Lenten journeying–through woundedness to healing. As a fellow pilgrim on this journey, Jessie embodies a commitment to truth, revealed through transparency, authenticity, and integrity.

Register with the Spirituality Center | Studium at Saint Benedict’s Monastery.

4) Sacred Pause Lenten Prayer

6 weekly virtual gatherings through the Spirituality Center | Studium virtual with Mary Catherine Holicky, OSB and Eunice Antony, OSB
fee: $50 for all 6 sessions
Thursdays, February 18, 25, March 4, 11, 18, 25, 11:30 – 12:45 AM
Recommended for: people who want to learn or deepen the practice of lectio divina (prayerful reading);
those interested in meeting in real time with a small cohort of seekers to create mutual trust and reverence;
liturgically-minded Christians who would like professional spiritual companionship (spiritual director) during an open-hearted, thoughtful, scriptural journey through the six weeks of Lent.
Commitment: fixed, 30-40 minutes weekly without spiritual companionship, 1.15 hours weekly with companionship, for 6 weeks (3 – 7 hours total).

Eunice Antony and Mary Catherine Holicky serve as co-Directors of the Spirituality Center at Saint Benedict’s Monastery.

This virtual retreat will gather participants to share common prayer of lectio divina (prayerful reading) using the Gospels of the Sundays of Lent. The program includes an optional 30-minute meeting with a sister companion via Zoom each week during Lent. I have participated in a number of day-long “Spiritual R&R” retreats facilitated by Sisters Mary Catherine and Eunice. Their practical wisdom has counseled me through difficult days, and the presence of their considerate compassion in my life strengthens me to be kinder to myself and others.

Limit: 8 participants. Register with the Spirituality Center | Studium at Saint Benedict’s Monastery.

5) Songs of Earth and Sky

a 9-hour writing retreat guide to integrate body, mind, and spirit by Tracy Rittmueller, OblSB
Recommended for: people who want to develop or strengthen a journaling/writing practice;
those interested in finding new ways to hear their inner wisdom / intuition, to “go with the flow”;
people who want to let go of the delusion that we can control life.
Commitment: 9 hours or more, very flexible. Make this a 3-day intensive retreat and commit 1 hour each morning, afternoon, and evening. You could also set aside one day a week for 3 weeks, or 1 hour a week for 9 weeks. Create a personalized schedule to suit your life.

My practices of spirituality and poetry are inseparable practices. Together they serve to get me to that place of my destiny, which the poet Dorothea Lasky calls “the great love affair between the self and the universal.” I wrote this retreat as a gift to you, to help you connect more deeply to your self, which will naturally open your awareness to all the love in and around you.

The aim of this 3-day retreat is to help us navigate our lives by intuition, instead of by the misguided delusion that we control exactly where we’re going and when we’ll arrive. We will trace some patterns to help us locate and recognize interconnections. We will peer into the chaos—that vast scattering of innumerable stars in our own visible sky—to see unique objects and life forms. We will inhabit the questions, instead of thinking we know all the answers. Above all, we will listen, because listening is one of the finest expressions of love, the source of being.

Download your free copy of Songs of Earth and Sky here.

Songs of Earth and Sky

Too many choices? How to decide if a retreat is right for you now, and if yes, which one.

Many intersecting practices and values contribute to a Benedictine way of life, all working like the threads of a tapestry to make the whole picture. The Benedictine life teaches us to stay calm and to bring peace to our environment and relationships. Overcommitment undermines peace. Trying to do or have it all brings unnecessary stress in our life and negatively effects our relationships.

I’d like to participate in all of these retreats. But, that wouldn’t be wise. If you aren’t clear on which upcoming retreat is right for you (if any are), and which seemingly great opportunities to forgo, maybe this little guide for spiritual discernment will be helpful:

Read: Listen with the ear of your heart to make up your mind: a Benedictine process for spiritual discernment