A Week With the Monks

May 20, 2022

Before 2013, I’d never been on a writing retreat. I assumed these getaways were for other people. Writers with busy jobs and blaring devises, a house full of noisy kids, and hundreds of daily distractions. I didn’t need to leave home to find solitude. With a perfectly great writing space here, and uninterrupted hours to pound away on my keyboard, why on earth would I go elsewhere to do that?   

But that was in the before days. Since my first 2013 retreat at Strawberry Creek, I’m now an unabashed retreat convert, and I try to sneak away as often as I can. It’s hard to explain the draw to my non-writing friends. All you do is sit at a desk day after day? Wouldn’t a beach be more fun? I try to describe how a new space creates writing magic, but I can’t do it justice, and their eyes glaze over.

Retreats halted during those long years of COVID, but this spring, I headed out with a dear writing friend for a week at St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, Saskatchewan. St. Pete’s is the oldest Benedictine monastery in Canada and home to fourteen monks whose lives are balanced with prayer, work, and study. The abbey and its buildings are surrounded by lovingly tended pastures, fields, orchards, and forests of trees raised from seed.

We were given rooms in St. Scholastica, just the two of us in a beautiful old brick house that often boards up to a dozen students. We settled quickly into our new routine. Eat, write, eat, write, eat, write, yack, drink, sleep, repeat. But that’s not the totality of it. There were intimate conversations about writers’ wounds and rejections. And raucous laughter. And mini workouts in the hallways when our bodies stiffened. And long tranquil strolls through the forest to feed the chickadees. And a tour of the old honey house with sweet Father Demetrius. And new insights into characters and storylines that I’d been struggling with for months.

I’m so incredibly grateful for experiences like this. I arrived home with four new scenes for my never-ending novel, an impressive page count for a slow writer like me. But the more intangible story is how I became totally nourished in that sacred space—body, soul, and spirit. I brought that home with me; that feeling of being ready to carry on.

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