"If you've never had the experience of leaving behind your laptop, cell phone, Blackberry, pager, and life's usual commitments for a few days at a monastery — you should. Turning my communication devices off for even a half-day at a time has fed my soul, but a long weekend or week is best of all. I sometimes get to the point, after a day or two, when I only turn my cell phone on once a day to see if I have messages. That's usually about the best I can manage.

"When I go on retreat, the first day is usually a time for sleep. By day two, I am able to enter into the prayer and liturgical life of the monastery and I begin spending time in the church from 4 a.m. until the most beautiful hour, Compline, at about 8 p.m. Then, by day three, I find myself able to listen to what I normally can't hear: those interior voices of both good and bad that are silenced in my secular life. One of the great teachers of Christian mysticism wrote: 'God, the Divine Spirit, is indeed before, within, and after all our truest dignity and deepest disquiet.' My head gets very noisy before it is able to quiet down.

"That Shrove Tuesday afternoon I asked Father Luke, 'Is it normal for my mind to be spinning with concerns at the precise time I am supposed to be quieting down?'

" 'Yes, I hear that a lot from people,' he said. 'It takes time, and patience.' "