In which I love the notion of retreat

I have a thing for nuns. It’s partly the glorious black and white habits of yore, partly the fact that they always seem beautifully tranquil–at least in my highly idealized version of them. Here are a few musings on contemplative withdrawal:

love the idea of retreat, don’t you? Particularly at this time of year when there is so much to do, to be, to make. The notion of simply withdrawing and being small and still and quiet is alluring. Don’t get me wrong, I am very much in the holiday spirit this year, but sometimes that carousel of activity whirls a bit too fast for me and I long to jump off. And that’s when I start looking up convents online. I’ve always liked the idea of nuns, dating to when I saw an episode of “The Bionic Woman” where Jaime went undercover at a convent and wore a habit. (I LOVED the habit. The flowing, austere black and white–no wonder Coco Chanel claimed to have been forever shaped as a designer by her early years in an orphanage. Probably not true, but a good story, no?)

Anyway, that episode set me on a career path until my mother sat me down and explained that if I became a nun I couldn’t wear makeup, couldn’t have any boyfriend besides God, and that–perhaps more to the point–we weren’t Catholic. So I gave up my dream of taking the veil, which let’s be honest, was really just about the VEIL itself.(Why did those go out of fashion? Veils are CHIC.) But even though I turned my ambitions elsewhere, I still remembered the cool silence, the long polished hallways, the lack of chatter at meals, and decided that convents would still be an excellent place to go and enjoy a bit of repose.

I keep imagining a peaceful place with a quiet room, a stack of books, and no interruptions, perhaps with a bit of plainsong in the background. Of course, this is a hopelessly outdated and naive picture of convent life. I have since toured the convent where the nuns at my daughter’s school live and it’s nothing at ALL like I pictured. There are no floor-sweeping black habits or herb knot gardens or vows of silence, and it occurs to me that I might like a pedicure or massage during my retreat so a spa is really the best place for me. I wonder if I could find one that enforces silence and pipes in a nice bit of medieval chant?

One thought on “In which I love the notion of retreat”

  1. Suzanne says:

    It’s really interesting that you are ready to withdraw in Autumn, as I am too, but our Autumn in Australia is March-May. I have always felt that a mixture of too much heat and too much carousing during Christmas and New year is to blame. It is lovely to withdraw into my house, my haven of tranquillity, and do my own thing for a while. I really feel the need to unruffled my feathers in Autumn.

    Did you know that what we think of as the traditional nun’s habit was designed by the famous designer Charles Frederick Worth of Paris in the late 19th century?

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