|Photo: Trish Dick, OSB|
“I see you!” These three words brought the women veterans to tears Sunday morning at the closing session of a wonderful retreat for the women veterans of Minnesota at Saint Benedict’s Monastery. There were 23 women veterans and five non-veteran support staff of the Women Veterans Initiative who participated.
The retreat provided Benedictine hospitality to the veterans. We strove to follow what is in the Rule of Benedict, chapter 53: “All guests are to be received as if they were Christ.” Most of these women feel they live on the margins, and are often unseen, even in their church community. The Sisters view the retreat, designed specifically for women Veterans, as a ministry to women who have been under-served and under-appreciated for their commitment of military service to our country.
The theme was: “A Taste of Wellness: Holistic Healing through Many Modalities.” Retreat activities included various modalities for the healing of “mind, body, and spirit.” Our goal was to provide multiple ways of healing and integration. Veterans could participate in pottery, gardening, crafting, writing, walking, resting, and experiencing many form of healing body work (foot reflexology, massage, healing touch, yoga, and Feldenkrais). Spiritual direction was also offered. Many veterans chose to join the sisters for Liturgy of the Hours and Eucharist. Being able to socialize with the sisters at meals and in activities created a bond of community.
This retreat was a good fit for us sisters because we understand the difficulties of living out a specific mission of service in a male-dominated world, something we have in common with women veterans. Sisters have been trail blazers, just as the women veterans have. We have a history of being educated entrepreneurs who model leadership roles for women in a culture where we often have been underappreciated and undervalued, just as women veterans have. We understand how important it is to have the support of a strong community of other women. The monastery was a natural and good fit for the women veterans, because it provided a safe and welcoming place for healing and reflection along with opportunities to experience prayer and community.
Our greatest hope for the women would be that they came away from the retreat knowing that their individual stories matter, that their military service is valued by others and that there are things they can do to help heal the trauma they have experienced.
We wanted them to know that we acknowledge their service to our country. And we recognize the deep pain and struggle they have endured. Most of all, we hoped they would feel immersed in God’s love by connecting with us and by sharing our lives and sacred spaces.
This retreat humbled me; it enlarged my perspective regarding the significant suffering of women veterans who live with PTSD. Some of their stories, pain and tears haunt me, yet I am inspired by their resilience. I now have a deeper appreciation for their service to our country and a sobering understanding of some of the abuse some have endured. I am honored and proud to have been a part of this retreat.
Trish Dick, OSB