A Place in the Woods
October 25, 2010 | My Jottings
No matter how vigilantly we guard our lives, clutter, busyness, noise and exhaustion always nip at our heels. I have been trying to set aside time occasionally to go someplace where my heels are protected and I can find simplicity, solitude, quiet and rest. It’s not practical for me to do this often, but if I can make it to Pacem in Terris once a year, I’m grateful.
Recently I made my second visit there, and hope to go again next fall. Pacem is a Catholic silent retreat center almost three hours south of where we live, with sixteen beautiful little prayer cabins, or hermitages, in the woods. I’m not Catholic but I have learned that many of the hermits who visit Pacem for prayer and quiet are either Protestant, or spiritual seekers. I love it there.
The different hermitages are named after saints, and mine was called St. Francis of Assisi, and was the farthest into the woods of the sixteen cabins, and because I went in the middle of the week, one night I was the only person on retreat. I never saw another soul as I walked through the woods.
This view below is taken from the front door looking inside – there’s a rocking chair, a foot stool, a table, an altar, and windows all around to enjoy the view of the trees and Tamarack Lake in the distance. There is no electricity, but there is a gas wall heater which kept my little cabin toasty at night when the temperatures dropped.
Each hermitage has a wonderfully comfortable single bed. No radio, no television, no computer, no phones….when it got dark it was time to sleep. When the sun rose, it was time to get up and sit quietly in the rocking chair, watching and contemplating the beauty of God’s creation.
There’s a side door that leads out to a nice screened in porch. I kept the water the kind people at Pacem provided for me, outside on the porch to keep it cold.
Most of the maples and birches had dropped their leaves and it was starting to look Novemberish. But the woods there are primarily oak, so many of the huge trees still had full crowns of leaves at their tops. All during my stay, there was a constant, drifting, gentle rain of leaves falling all around me.
There are peaceful paths for hiking, and as I walked I could hear blue jays call and downy woodpeckers drumming, and squirrels chattering, making their presence known.
This is a photo of another hermitage in the woods:
Below, this little chipmunk scolded me loudly and gave me the evil eye from a fallen log as I walked too closely for his liking.
A cross, a silent reminder of one true thing on which we can depend.
At one end of the Pacem property is a beautiful prairie, and I sat here counting my blessings and thanking God for His goodness and faithfulness, no matter what circumstances around me look like.
I happened upon this wooden walk, and wondered where it led.
Aaahh….the lake, which was full of cat tails and paddling duck families.
The end of this dock was floating, and I had to balance carefully as I sat on this chair and put up my feet.
I meandered back to my hermitage and chose this perfect acorn as a reminder of my stay.
Deer tracks right outside my cabin:
It took me almost the whole first day to settle in, to grow accustomed to the quiet and the lack of a lengthy to-do list, meals to cook, a house to clean, people to care for. I have heard that some people come to Pacem in Terris and can’t stand the deafening silence, and leave within hours.
I took my Bible and a notebook, and I sat and rocked and read, tuning my spiritual ears in to see if I would be able to “be still and know that He is God…” Ps. 46:10.
I thought about the converse of this – “don’t be still and so don’t know that He is God.” And I was sobered.
The staff at Pacem drives you out to your hermitage when you arrive, and they provide a basket of food to each visiting hermit. Two small round loaves of whole wheat bread, some organic cheese, a home-baked bran muffin with dates and walnuts, and fruit. A feast!
There’s a cabinet in each cabin with tea and coffee bags, a flashlight, extra blankets, a first aid kit, and everything one could possibly need while on retreat. There’s a gas cooking ring and a tea kettle in the room, and making myself a hot cup of something to sip, took on new delights as other distractions were stripped away.
Here are some notes about Pacem from a previous hermit named Bill:
“Living Pacem time…I rolled over and went back to sleep for an hour.
I didn’t eat breakfast at 7:00, lunch at 11:30 nor supper at 6:00.
I prayed outside.
I had an all-day meeting that I thoroughly enjoyed.
I didn’t shave and no one noticed.
I looked at no screens and did no digital communicating.
I got a glimpse of myself — without a mirror.
There was nothing to be on time for.
I watched the wind help the trees give praise.
I heard Him say, “I love you.”
When the sun went down, so did I.
I wet my pillow with a tear of joy, knowing I had spent the day in His perfect will.”
Sometimes you have to look hard or listen intently to find the one true thing.
Jesus is my One True Thing. He’s always there and promises to never leave me or forsake me. I go to Pacem to be still, to be alone, and to be reminded once again that He is God over all of my life.