It is not a far drive from the Cities, but the stars at night will tell you it is far enough — to gain a new view, to see distant light not always apparent at home, to hear the gifts carried by silence. The Christine Center, where I was recently on retreat, welcomes all visitors with numerous ways of telling us we are on sacred ground.
First, there is the sign hanging over a carefully crafted heavy wooden door announcing simply: “ENTRANCE WE ARE ONE.” Then, stepping through this door, you find yourself in a silo.
When the retreat center first opened almost 50 years ago, its main building was a barn, and its chapel was housed in the silo. Later, when a larger, new building was designed, the plan was to move the old silo and repurpose it as an entrance. But if you’ve ever tried to move a silo, you might know, it is not an easy thing. Sometimes remembrance involves creating something new that echoes old stories. This entrance, modeled after the old silo, still speaks of sacred seeds and the nourishment found on holy ground.
Silo: a tower or pit on a farm used to store grain.
Inside the circular foyer, what you find is not grain but open space, offering its own nourishment. The middle of the floor is empty save the footprints of those passing through. Against the wall on one side, Buddha sits on an altar bench, gazing peacefully across the circle at St. Francis, standing against the opposite wall. Imagine the conversations they have there, in the silage of silence as the visitors come and go.
It is not heated, the roof high above housing a bell that is rung as a call to meals and meditation. Unlike some silos, this one is not sealed. A small space between the roof and walls lets the bell tones out; it also lets the cold in – and a little snow that has drifted down, laid at the feet of Buddha and St. Francis like a winter offering from the sky.
Silo: a system, process, department, that operates in isolation from others.
Many retreatants come for the solitude. Whether staying in a hermitage nestled in the woods or a room in the retreat center, people come for time alone. Others come with a hunger for community, for the fodder of fellowship. Either way, the sign over the entrance reminds us, solitude and isolation are not the same thing. We are one, it says. I come in as one individual and, after a few days of walking through the woods, gazing at the stars, listening to the wind and meditating in the silence, I leave having experienced a oneness shared with all beings. I imagine Buddha and St. Francis nodding knowingly to one another as I pass through the silo to go home.
As it turns out, the silo, welcoming and sacred as it is, is not a place for staying. It is a place of transition. A threshold, rich with possibility. It is a passage, its air a sacred silage offered to those arriving and those departing – a nourishing remembrance of our oneness, a gift of the holy grain of belonging that feeds us wherever we are and wherever we are going.
What are the storehouses that offer you the grain of belonging, especially in the middle of winter or any isolating season in your life? Where do you find, at home or elsewhere – in a place, in a practice, in a relationship or community – the sacred silage that feeds your heart’s hunger and connects you to the oneness of all being? If you listen to your heart’s hunger today, what does it tell you? To write about this from a prompt, begin with the words below and follow wherever they lead:
My heart’s hunger . . . .
NOTE: You are invited to pass through this silo — and visit the Christine Center — for a 5-day writing retreat I will lead, March 21-25. For more information click here. Discounted registration ends Feb 21.