Sacred Space

Lynne Smith, OSBLiving in Community, Monastic Life, Retreats 12 Comments

open hilltop at Holy Wisdom Monastery overlooking Lake MendotaOver the past weekend, I met several guests out walking on the grounds of the monastery. One retreatant spoke about how meaningful it has been for her to walk the grounds, to sit and reflect.

Her comments spoke to me of our ministry at Holy Wisdom Monastery as holding sacred space.

Spaciousness and leisure are important in our lives to allow room for the deeper meaning of our experiences to surface. Monasteries fulfill an essential service to society by providing this space.

Monastic space, both indoors and out, is shaped by the values of silence, solitude, beauty, use of natural materials, hospitality, reverence for all people and respect for creation. You may or may not meet one of the sisters or coworkers when you visit the monastery.  The values we live, however, will touch you through the sacred space we maintain both on the land and in the buildings. The silence and solitude that we nurture allows room for the holy, which is always present, to become manifest in our midst.

In some respects, the monastery grounds are much like the grounds of Governor Nelson State Park across the road. They both include prairie, woodlands and hills, and both are located near a body of water. But in an important and palpable way, the monastery grounds are profoundly different. The grounds here are a place of leisure and reflection in which we can encounter the holy and discover a deep part of ourselves.

We can experience this same type of space in the Assembly Room. The chairs are set in the round.  The open space in the middle with the table set for the Eucharist speaks of Christ at the center of the Assembly.  The space invites us. The openness of the room and the welcome spirit of the people speak of the hospitality of God. As we worship facing each other, we come to see the Christ in one another.

The open space of the Oratory and the silence included in our daily prayers also open the way for an encounter with the holy.

Many visitors have stories of how they have been touched by the holy at the monastery. We would like to hear your story. Please send me a few sentences about your experience or give me a call. With your permission, we will share those stories with our readers.

Comments 12

  1. I have been coming for a personal retreat from Bloomington, IL at least annually for the last ten years. When I pull in the drive, I know I’m “home.” While at the monastery, I walk on holy ground, spend holy time, encounter holy people. “Holy” and “sacred” are nebulous concepts, but I know that this is where God “restoreth my soul.”

    1. Post

      Carol, it is hard to describe “the holy.” Maybe it has something to do with feeling “at home.” We are always glad to have you here on retreat. Thank you for your comment!

  2. Last weekend, I visited for the first time and G-d willing it will not be the last. What an incredibly peaceful prairie on which to wander and wonder. If your schedule at all permits, I would absolutely recommend participating in Sunday Assembly – what a taste of heaven and literally all are welcome!

  3. Thanks for this wonderful article: I entirely agree. Our own Tradition is very much desirous of providing a similar place for both religious and retreatants. I love how this article explains the purpose and mission of a monastery: to provide room for the religious–but also to provide a space for the greater, secular, community: and even if they don’t come to the grounds, the mere presence of the monastery does fulfill, indeed, an important role in society. Thanks to the Sisters for their charism!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Fr. Peter. I think many people don’t understand the need for a monastery these days. But those who have experienced monastic space know that it touches their needs for silence, solitude, acceptance, and reflection.

  4. [Comment received through facebook] What a marvelous and sacred place. My wife and I always look forward to our personal retreats there. Time for community worship, outstanding mouth watering food, wonderful conversation around the dining tables, study, solitude, silence, and walks through the fields and oak forests. Or if you wish just sit on the hill and watch the sail boats on Lake Mendota. I hate to say “heaven on earth”, but…..

  5. My story is of a recent retreatant who spoke very passionately of how Holy Wisdom Monastery truly does “hold” an open, sacred space where she can experience the Holy in new and unexpected ways. As she spoke, she cupped her hands in a universal image of holding something very precious. I am grateful to her for that image to lay alongside Lynne’s wonderful images. It is a joy to know that this is the experience of many who come to Holy Wisdom Monastery.

  6. As a coworker here at Holy Wisdom Monastery, it feels sacred to go to the Monastery and work. Sometimes I get into the grind of just ‘going to the office’ but at times I’m fortunate enough to be able to take a break and walk around the grounds, see some wildlife and snap some photos. I’ve never had a workplace before where that was an option! Another great thing about working at the monastery is all the natural light that comes into the ‘green’ building. I’ve worked in skyscrapers in Chicago under fluorescent lights, and it just feels like I’m treating my physical and mental self so much better to be working under so much natural light.

  7. I will be calling tomorrow to schedule my first “personal” retreat and Holy Wisdom. I have been praying about this for months and now it will happen. Five days and four nights to deepen my faith. I have been to a women’s church retreat here years ago and can’t wait to come as an individual in search of that peace, solitude and close communion with my Lord and Savior. I am, and will be, truly blessed by Holy Wisdom and all those who assist in making retreats so meaningful. Question: Is it possible to have a “silent” personal retreat? While I would be having meals in the dining area, is it possible to alert others if I chose to spend my retreat in silence (except for prayer/worship services)?

    1. Marcia, thank you for your question and for remembering Holy Wisdom as a place to schedule your first personal retreat. Yes, it is possible to have a silent personal retreat. When you check in to your room, we will provide you with a small name tag that says “Please respect my silence,” so that others know that you are on a silent retreat. You can choose when to wear the name tag. We look forward to hosting your silent personal retreat and know that you will greatly benefit from the peacefulness of our Monastery, the Retreat and Guest House and the beautiful prairie that surrounds us. -Jill Carlson, director of guest services.

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