Thursday, April 13, 2006

The company of women

A couple of times in the past year I've driven past my old Catholic church and expected to feel a sharp, sudden sadness over losing that place. And of course I do feel profoundly saddened by what I've lost, but it's much deeper and more complex than that pang of nostalgia you sometimes experience at the sight of someplace that was once important in your life and no longer is.

It hit me full force yesterday when I was out on my bike after work, in what is new cycling territory for me. I was enjoying a meandering ride and found myself turning onto the road that leads to the retreat house where a small group of women from my parish used to gather for a weekend every year. When the building where we stayed came into view, I felt my chest tighten until it hurt. We made it through many years together but it's been two years now since the group got together. The numbers were going down anyway as we all got older; a couple of the women had died, others had health problems, and a few had moved away. The catastrophe back in the old parish was the final blow.

I don't know what the folks at the retreat house thought of us; our routine was not entirely traditional. Ours was certainly not a silent retreat. If anything, there were times when I would have appreciated a little more silence; if you wanted to be left alone with your own thoughts and prayers, you had to go into the chapel or take yourself away to someplace on the grounds where no one would find you. Our schedule included the usual conferences where a retreat leader would talk with us, and we had Mass together, and time set aside for walks along the canal or visits to the magnificent chapel at the retreat center, which used to be a seminary for boys from high school age up. (I think there still is a seminary on the grounds, though the high school section is gone and the overall numbers are way down.)

Then, at the end of each day, we'd have a wine and cheese gathering, where we'd laugh and gossip and tell stories long into the night. A couple of times we tried getting together in the "off season" between retreats, but it never seemed to work out due to schedule conflicts and so forth. But when we gathered together again at the retreat house each year, it felt as if we'd never been apart. That community of women sustained me in the church for a long time, and I miss them.

The Lord gave the word; great was the company of women who bore the tidings.
  • Psalm 68:11


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