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Inn Harmony: 3 Spiritual Retreats
Holy Cross Abbey

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

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Holy Cross Abbey

Following a stay at Holy Cross Abbey, I feel obliged to confess: Life without telephones, televisions, radios or other earthly distractions was, at first, jolting. I adjusted by focusing on the sweep of surrounding flora. Peach and sycamore trees, evergreens and open meadows, all different hues of green, stretched out in every direction. The Shenandoah range, tree-lined and tinged in a shade of light blue, rolled out in the near distance.

A setting like that made it natural to shift to Holy Cross's main pursuit -- inner reflection. For that, these 1,200 acres of farmland in pastoral Berryville, Va., could not be better suited. The retreat house, a modern two-story structure, consists of a Spartan dining room, a library filled with spiritual tomes, a chapel and 15 guest rooms. My room, furnished with a single bed, a chair, a private bath and, of course, a Bible, recalled college dorm quarters. The other guests, including nine men and three women, stuck to themselves. The monastery chapel, a 10-minute walk away, was a simple structure with plain white walls and a few wooden benches.

For a stronghold of the faithful, home to two dozen or so Cistercian monks who adhere closely to Vatican edicts and Catholic rituals, life for visitors was surprisingly unstructured. Unlike many of its counterparts, this spiritual center imposes no requirements on retreatants. Attendance at meals, the five daily chapel services (starting with vigils at 3:30 a.m.) or the one-on-one counseling sessions offered by an abbot are all optional. Silence is encouraged but not strictly enforced. Even devotion to Catholicism is optional; the doors are open to followers of all faiths.

"We want to be a place for anyone seeking spiritual renewal," said Abbot Robert Barnes, the director.

After a day, I stepped easily into the Holy Cross rhythm. The silence was a welcome relief. The services were refreshing. But Father Robert acknowledged that this place is not for everyone. "People who are not seeking a spiritual respite will grow crazy looking at the cows grazing," he said.

For this short-term visitor, it was near perfect. Even a week after returning, I still wake at dawn and listen for the chanting of monks.

-- Gary Lee

Holy Cross Abbey is at 901 Cool Spring Lane in Berryville, Va., an 80-minute drive from Washington. Reservations required. Stays are Monday to Friday or Friday to Sunday, with room and three meals a day. Suggested offering: $150 to $300 for retreats during the week, $100 to $200 for weekends. Information: 540-955-4383,http://www.hcava.org

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