Retreating (close to home!) by Cindy LaFerle

THIS WEEK, ReadTheSpirit is recommending books by poet and  journalist Judith Valente. (And, don’t miss Judith’s own column on 10 steps toward rediscovering peace.) However, when we read such stories, we might get the mistaken impression that retreats are only for well-to-do people who can travel great distances. So, we invited author and columnist Cindy LaFerle to share this chapter from her book Writing Home about a simpler solution she has found.

(Close to Home)


Four times a year, I indulge in a ritual that puzzles my neighbors, not to mention my family.

It goes something like this: I rise at dawn on a weekday and load my car with two large tote bags—one crammed with books, the other with pajamas and a toothbrush. I back out of the driveway quickly and disappear for twenty-four hours. The next day, I come back looking as if I’d spent a full week at five-star spa.

My sacred escape, as I call it, is a mere twenty minutes from home, but seems a universe away.

“So, did you have fun at the monastery?” my husband teases when I return.

My hideaway isn’t exactly a monastery—but it’s the next best thing. Secluded on a wooded estate in Bloomfield Hills, Manresa Jesuit Retreat House remains one of the best-kept secrets in my part of Michigan. It’s where I go when my shoulders lock up and I can’t quite silence the white noise buzzing in my head. It’s where I turn when I feel unappreciated, uninspired, overtaxed and overwhelmed.

No, Manresa doesn’t offer facials, glycol peels, pedicures or therapeutic massages. And while the historic Tudor-revival mansion graciously opens its meeting facilities to business functions and networking events, it remains, at its heart, a place for the spirit. Religious artwork and gilded icons decorate the hallways, while Stations of the Cross and Catholic statuary anchor its manicured acres of tranquil garden paths.

And nobody goes home hungry. On a recent overnight retreat, three church friends and I enjoyed heaping portions of “Jesuit cuisine”–a divine menu of real comfort food, including roast chicken, green beans, and divine, buttery mashed potatoes. And, as we quickly discovered on a midnight kitchen raid, there’s always a plate of homemade cookies left for snacking.

After dinner, my friends and I usually set aside time alone for reading and reflection. While I also read inspirational literature at home, I enjoy this genre most in the sanctuary of my private room at Manresa. (The paneled library downstairs, in fact, is where I first discovered the writings of Henri J. M. Nouwen.)

Spending just a few hours this way, I feel as if my frazzled parts had been gently polished and refastened.

I highly recommend retreating to everyone, regardless of religious affiliation. Women, especially, need to give ourselves permission to step aside for a breather, even if our loved ones think we’re being unsociable, or, heaven forbid, neglectful. Our devotion to family and career seldom allows time to quench the soul, and few of us have a quiet place where we can pause to refuel.

Unlike health spas, where the lodgings are typically deluxe, religious retreat houses offer minimal amenities. Expect no television and very few distractions. Manresa, for example, enforces periods of silence that must be respected by all guests.

A spiritual retreat can be held in any secluded location, but be sure to plan well in advance. Leave secular worries behind and cell phones turned off. And if you’re not attending a guided retreat, prepare your own list of spiritual activities–group discussions, personal journaling, meditation, or prayer focus.

Wherever you retreat, your aim should be to return to your daily responsibilities with fresh perspective and a renewed spirit to share with others.

Care to read more?

Look around your region of the U.S. for retreat centers that are open to the public at a reasonable cost. Because retreat centers vary so widely, you might try asking a pastor, rabbi or imam in your area about sites they may recommend. If you ask friends from a similar religious background for suggestions, you’re more likely to feel comfortable when you arrive.

This column was reprinted with Cindy’s permission from her book Writing Home, which ReadTheSpirit also highly recommends. You’ll also enjoy her regular columns at

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  1. Duncan Newcomer says

    Having recently moved from southern Indiana to mid-coast Maine one of the first things we did was find the Alcyon Retreat Center on Mount Desert Island, where silence and natural beauty conspire to bring the Spirit to our surface. Even when we are not there we can imagine the place by looking out across the bay and the fingers of land that lead up the coast to where it is, and we can find silence and natural beauty everywhere.