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Redmond: Holiday Retreat

12/21/11 7:55AM By Marybeth Redmond
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(Host) The busy holiday season seems like an unlikely time to step away from one’s active life and go on a silent retreat. But, that’s exactly what writer, journalist and commentator Marybeth Redmond did earlier this month at an ecologically-minded monastery in Greensboro.

(Redmond ) Once a year, I book my own silent retreat weekend. It’s a pact my husband and I make with each other to spend a few days in solitude reflecting and recharging. Independently, we've journeyed to monasteries throughout Vermont and Canada, usually a couple hours drive away.

Entering the ‘Great Silence’ is an ancient monastic practice meant to facilitate deep interior listening and communion with the divine. Our retreat weekends are never formalized, but filled with open-ended stretches of reading, writing, meditating, walking the land, and, of course, napping.

This December my husband prodded me: “Your turn to go.” I had heard of a relatively new monastery in Greensboro where retreat guests could stay alone in a simple hermitage in the woods - just like the well-known Trappist monk Thomas Merton, who resided in a solitary Kentucky hermitage in his final years. I had devoured Merton’s spiritual writings — I couldn’t wait!

Sisters Gail and Bernadette, of Green Mountain Monastery, welcomed me. They directed me down a short pathway to a 10 by 12-foot straw bale hermitage with a majestic panorama of the mountains. Surrounded by 160 acres of balsam, fir and pine forest, I settled into a locally-made hammock chair with a cup of tea.

The Catholic sisters purchased the property in 2005 to create an “ecozoic monastery for the 21st century.” The word “ecozoic” was coined by their mentor, the late Thomas Berry, a priest and cultural historian who wrote prolifically about a future where humans co-exist in harmony with the Earth.

This religious community celebrates Earth as a single sacred community of life. Here, Berry wrote: “All subjects are to be communed with, not objects to be exploited.” He is buried there on the Greensboro property.

This ‘green’ monastery aims to operate as sustainably as possible. The refurbished farmhouse is self-powered by 16 solar panels. Two mammoth Russian fireplaces heat the building; they produce a clean burn with little smoke. Most of the organic ingredients used in the vegetarian cooking are grown by the sisters, or purchased locally. The sisters support themselves by harvesting their trees to make Christmas wreaths.

A towering metal sculpture of St. Francis of Assisi communing with the birds adorns the hillside. The artwork boldly announces to the mountains beyond that this place honors the natural world.

Back in my hermitage, I dive into a stack of books I have packed, but struggle to focus. I’m ready to rest in the silence away from the frenzied cacophony of smart phone and computer. As I contemplate my own life, I am drawn back to the inspiring origins of this monastery - two nuns from the New York area who came to Vermont with a vision to create sacred sanctuary for others. It’s an intention I resonate with deeply, and I return to the holidays refreshed and in tune with the spirit of the season.
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