I just spent four nights at Clare’s Well, a Franciscan Sisters’ Spirituality Farm in Annandale, MN, about sixty miles from the Twin Cities. For the time I was there, I was unplugged, in more ways than one. There was no Internet in my “hermitage,” though there is in the main farmhouse, where the nuns who run the place live. I went to get away from email and Internet, from TV, newspapers, news, music, airplanes passing overhead, traffic, city life, cooking and cleaning, my husband and dog, and most of all my distracted, busy self. I went there to write.
The novel I’m writing is based on the 1947 lynching of a young black man, Willie Earle, in my hometown of Greenville, S.C., by a mob of white taxi cab drivers the night after he was arrested on suspicion of killing another driver. The murder and trial are brilliantly documented in piece by Rebecca West, called “Opera in Greenville,” which appeared in June 14, 1947 issue of The New Yorker. I’m writing the stories of four fictional characters who were impacted spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically by the incident. I wanted to finish the section I was working on about Alma, a black maid in Greenville who, in my fictional world, had known Willie Earle when he was a child.
Sitting on the floor on a prayer cushion in the “House of Francis,” my one-room cottage, I cried like a baby as I wrote the final pages of Alma’s story. I forgot even that I was writing, and only came to when I realized I was crying. The story unfolding quite apart from my conscious mind was so real and alive to me, and so sad.
I doubt I could have entered into the writing that deeply at home. It took the solitude and freedom from my regular life that Clare’s Well provided. What a gift!
The 40-acre retreat center is run by three Sisters who make such respite possible. People stay in one of three hermitages for spiritual retreats or simply to read, to pray, to renew, to be alone, and to enjoy the beauty of nature and the farm. It is a beautiful place, so quiet, with only the sounds of nature, and the squawking of the silly Guinea hens, whose appearance reminds one that God has a sense of humor.
Every day, the nuns, Carol, Jan, and Paula, feed the retreatants lunch and dinner. Can you imagine? It’s like having three to five guests for two meals every single day—argggh. But it was incredible to be fed without having to think up what to have, buy it, fix it, and clean it up. All domestic responsibilities fell by the wayside for the five days I was there. I was a bit in shock at all the time that opened up–time to be by myself, to think only of my novel or nothing at all, to wander around farm and fields, get a Trager massage from Sister Paula (wonderful!), to “help” feed the chickens and baby goats, and gather eggs from the nests in the barn (Okay, Paula did that because I was afraid of getting pecked). The Sisters were friendly and warm, but left me alone and didn’t ask or expect anything in return. They made it clear it was my time, their gift to me.
I am so thankful that I got to go to Clare’s Well!