In a Monastery of the Heart, the Benedictine soul learns always to return to the cave of the heart, where the superfluities of life do not distract from the significance of life. This requires the cultivation of a reflective soul and a disciplined mind that goes regularly into “retreat”—into that space where we look, first of all, at what we set out to be, and then look consciously at what we are now doing to get there.
Retreat time is the practice of making personal time for the kind of spiritual time that is beyond the routine of religious practices or spiritual duties.
Part of our spiritual journey, Benedict implies, must, if the soul is to make progress in the spiritual life, be spent remembering what we say are our intentions in life, in the light of what we can clearly see are becoming the patterns and actions of our lives.
In fact, what we’re called to do is to pray more thoughtfully, to read more intensely, to feel more keenly the distance between what we say we are and what we know ourselves to be and to strengthen our capacity for resolve.
Retreat times remind us that it is easy to become slack in concern for the mundane, the daily, and the unglamorous in the face of a world so enticingly exciting.
Life in a Monastery of the Heart is meant to freshen the embers and stoke the fire of fidelity, to deepen our understanding of the great treasure we seek, to remind us of who we are and what we are meant to be, to bring to new life in us again the sight of the road on which we have put our feet. Retreat time sets the standard for a rhythm of life that moves seamlessly between contemplation and action, between work and Sabbath, between a regular retreat and reflection days throughout the year.
There is a temptation in religious life to play religious, to dress the part of the seeker, to look, as the Gospels warn us, wan and worn out from fasting.
What is more growthful, the Rule demonstrates, is to ask ourselves regularly about all the little ways we are tempted to cut the corners of the spiritual life: by ceasing to pray, by giving up on the study of the faith, by failing to grapple with the scriptures, by neglecting to go out of ourselves, to meet the needs of others, to tell the world a Gospel truth, to give voice to the pain of the world, to put down the ambitions of the political, to take up the challenges of the prophets.
Retreat times remind us always to make the space to begin—again—and in the midst of the cloying demands of work and family, of money-making worries and the stressors of social systems, to fix the eye of the heart on the really important things of life.
In every Monastery of the Heart, there must be regular times set aside to go down into these inner recesses of the soul once more, alone and centered, to take another look, a new kind of look, at ourselves.
Retreat, reflection, Sabbath, and soul-space are of the essence of the monastic spirit—not for our sake alone, but for the sake of those who depend on us to make the promise of creation new again.
—from The Monastery of the Heart: Benedictine Spirituality for Contemporary Seekers, by Joan Chittister