A couple of weeks ago my wife and I went on a contemplative retreat to Conception Abbey northeast of St. Joseph, Missouri. We traveled up there with a group of folks from our church to spend the weekend away from all the noise that we're normally immersed in.
This was our fourth retreat to Conception Abbey. I've grown very fond of this island of solitude and peace in the middle of rural Missouri. I've seen it in the early Spring, in early Fall, and in the middle of Winter. I'll probably go again this Summer, just to complete the seasonal round, if for no other reason.
Going on retreat almost requires that you get away from your normal surroundings. In the case of this retreat, we traded a normal suburban existence--subdivision, lots of cars, shopping centers--for a cloistered world--a monastery, a seminary, a college campus layout, all surrounded by 260-foot-tall wind turbines spotted around the abbey on local farmland. The juxtaposition of the very modern with the almost timeless still inspires something almost magical in my heart.
I'm pretty sure that a contemplative retreat isn't right for everyone, or at least right for everyone immediately. In the case of the group we were with, we had been growing together as a group over the previous three retreats. We saw each other at various times during the week when we were back in our normal existence, where such encounters might consist of nothing more than chit-chat and "how's the weather?" kinds of remarks. On retreat, on the other hand, you see much deeper into the other person's soul. Having no distractions allows for deeper conversation and sharing of what's going on in your heart and mind, what is weighing on you, what is giving you joy.
I'd say, based on my own experience, that it's almost impossible to generalize about a retreat experience. Different people will focus on different aspects of being away from their usual surroundings. For each of us in our group, though, I think we'd all agree that the retreat has become something that we look forward to. We have grown closer as fellow travelers on the journey of faith, and have found that it's always best to travel with friends, even when you're focusing on solitude.