What are your reactions to the Fall 2011 retreat?

“Celebrating Creation,” a women’s retreat, brought together 13 participants under the leadership of the Rev. Susan Skinner on the last weekend of October. The Barn Abbey in New Harmony, Indiana, provided a spare, monastic setting, with simply furnished bedrooms, communal baths, and a big living/meeting room with windows on the woods and a gas fireplace burning.

The picturesque town of New Harmony, home of two different utopian communities in the 19th century, offered opportunities to hike through the wooded areas, walk a labyrinth, enjoy outdoor sculptures, visit reconstructed cabins of the first settlers, and observe water birds on a nearby pond.

A joyful atmosphere pervaded the weekend, which began with a simple but tasty supper of soup, salad, and bread on Friday evening. Then the group confronted this spiritual dilemma: how to maintain a peaceful and monastic atmosphere in the face of the final game of the World’s Series? In a wise compromise, the opening evening session was moved up a half hour, and a television was located for those who wished to celebrate creation in the form of a Cardinals’ win.

The entire weekend was blessed with chilly but sunny fall weather, perfect for meditation on the beauty of creation. Readings and stories drawn from Benedictine and Celtic traditions led to suggestions that the participants go out into nature and respond with drawing, writing, photos, or simply with remembrances to share when the group gathered again. In a spirit of the Benedictine “ora et labore,” everyone pitched in to help prepare and clean up after meals. Even the bread for Eucharist was baked by group members, filling the Barn Abbey on Sunday morning with a delicious aroma.

Many of the participants were strangers at the beginning of the weekend, but a bond developed as group members shared their experiences, thoughts and prayers, and by the end of the weekend, a true spirit of community had formed. Everyone left with a sense of refreshment and renewal, and a desire to return to New Harmony at some future time.

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