Escape from life’s pressures and attend a retreat or program

A retreatant walks the labyrinth at Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat near Wheatland.

By Cathy Bolkcom

Our lives are so incredibly busy these days. The demands and pleasures of work, family and personal interests — not to mention the overwhelming amount of information bombarding us every day — can make life feel unmanageable.

Time for quiet or solitude seems impossible. Increasingly, the world has become a very loud place, with people seemingly shouting at us from all quarters about all manner of things.

This is why I have made a practice for years of spending time throughout the year at Our Lady of the Prairie. The Sisters of Humility of Davenport sponsor this retreat center as a way to provide hospitality in a sacred space that promotes respect for creation in the tradition of the Sisters. It is a refuge for my beleaguered spirit. I can connect with and rejuvenate my spiritual core at this lovely, modern retreat center attached to an original farmhouse on a rural property north of Big Rock (about 30 minutes from Davenport). I feel a million miles away from the noise and obligations of our modern life. I completely unplug from the world, leaving behind my computer, email, voicemail, texts, TV and even radio to spend several days in quiet and solitude when I go for a private retreat.


I have a very busy life — I enjoy nothing more than several days in a row where I can literally not see or talk to another person. I write, sleep and eat simply (though one can have meals prepared by the staff). I meditate, read and walk the magnificent grounds — acres of paths that crisscross the acreage, past the pond, around the prairies and through the trees — with nothing to listen to but the sounds of the natural world.

 I have also attended excellent, guided retreats and programs at Our Lady of the Prairie. Two come to mind: an overnight retreat with a group led by Rev. Jean Norton and Mona Terry of Heartsounds, two incredibly talented musicians who explore the boundary between music and spirituality; and a one-day program led by Rev. Becky David on the “Wheel of Life,” which explores the cycle of spiritual growth throughout life. One of the things I appreciate is that one need not be of a particular faith or religion to take advantage of all the retreat center has to offer.

One of my favorite spots is the outdoor labyrinth made of rock and gravel where I can practice a walking meditation, carrying an intention as I travel around the sacred geometry of the path, winding into the center of the spiral. I pause and reflect on a stone bench at the center, mindfully attending to the grace of the present moment and then winding my way back through the labyrinth to where I started.

 This is a wonderful metaphor for what a retreat, guided or private, can offer: a time out of the busy-ness of our lives to simply be quiet and present and to see what comes. As Thich Nhat Hanh says: “Smile, breathe and go slowly.”

I try to take a sense of that space home with me after my respites at Our Lady of the Prairie.

(Cathy Bolkcom is a chaplain, community activist and artist who lives in LeClaire.)

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