Reflections on a Spiritual Retreat (Part 2 of 3): Nouwen & Merton

Bedside at the hermitage.

Bedside at the hermitage

While staying at the Immaculate Heart Center for Spiritual Renewal, you have two options for lodging. The first option is to stay in the main house with the sisters and other residents and take your meals with them each day. The second option is to stay in a hermitage on the property and take care of your own meals through the purchase of your own supplies and the use of the hermitage kitchen. 

We opted to stay in the hermitage this year. 

Through a door.

Small writing room adjacent to our room at the hermitage

On the first full morning of our stay, Kirk met with the spiritual director who lives at the center. Her name is Joann, and she has belonged to the Immaculate Heart community for 50 years (!). She is a dear, dear heart. 

During the course of their visit together, Kirk learned a number of unusual and amazing facts about the retreat center. 

Such as the fact that Henri Nouwen once stayed in the very same hermitage where we stayed! He came for a week and brought a driver and a young member of the L'Arche community with him, and the three of them stayed together in the little house on the property where we also stayed. 

Amazing. I consider Henri Nouwen one of my spiritual fathers, and it was pretty incredible to consider that we were staying in the same place he did during our time there. I can imagine he made use of the little writing room off our room. 

We're staying at a retreat center the next few days, and this is the tiny little writing room that's part of our room at the hermitage.

Can't you see Nouwen sitting here and writing each day? 

The next story Joann related to Kirk is that Thomas Merton had also stayed at the center, in the main house, in 1968 ... just before he left to Bangkok, Thailand. 

If you are familiar with the life of Thomas Merton, you know that his fateful trip to Thailand was one of the most anticipated and treasured of his life. He was to attend an interreligious dialogue of monks there, and it took a very long time for him to secure permission from his abbot to leave the community at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Louisville, Kentucky, and travel across the world to attend such a conference at all. 

While there, after giving his paper at the conference, Merton was electrocuted by an electric fan in his bathroom and died. 

Room 1, where Merton stayed.

Room 1, where Merton stayed prior to leaving the States for the Bangkok conference.

Merton, too, is someone I consider to be one of my spiritual fathers, perhaps even more dear and instructive to my life of faith than Nouwen is today. To learn that he had stayed on the grounds and at such a momentous point in his life's journey was ... well, it was humbling and awe-inspiring, to say the least. 

Next time we return to the retreat center, we may see if Room 1 is available for our stay. (Wouldn't you?!)