Escape from it all in Metro Atlanta Monastery Spiritual Wellness
With the constant demand and drain on our attention, it’s natural to wish for stillness, a getaway that lets you get away not just physically but spiritually — a retreat for the soul. And it’s here, just 30 minutes east of Atlanta, at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit.
The working monastery in Conyers, GA, is a place of beauty, natural and artistic. In the vaulted abbey church, light filters through cool, blue-toned stained glass. Outside, the fields and woodlands boast gentle walkways that meander across the property, eventually connecting to the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area.
It’s the ambiance, though, rather than the surroundings that make a visit here memorable. A sense of tranquility hangs in the air. The Trappist monks who call it home devote their lives to prayerful contemplation as they have since the founding of the monastery 75 years ago. Whether such dedicated thoughtfulness sounds daunting — or compelling — they invite everyone, guests of any or no faith, to enter their world for a few hours or a few days.
“It’s such a unique experience,” says Catherine Fuss, an Atlanta native who has been visiting the monastery for over a decade. “There are so many things that you can do or even not do anything at all. There’s no rush. It’s unhurried, a different pace, a feeling of peace.”
For first-timers, Fuss recommends starting with a tour of the visitor center, which includes a small museum. Afterward, spend time outdoors. Feed ducks by the lake or bask in the calm of the bonsai garden. Stay for vespers in the early evening to hear the monks chanting the psalms in low-toned harmony.
But it’s not all pure asceticism at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. Indulge in something sweet before you go, like the biscotti, fudge and fruitcake made by the monks in their bakery. The artful pairing of fruits and nuts make these treats worth savoring: pistachios, pecans, cherries, cranberries. It’s tempting to keep them for yourself, but consider the values the monks espouse — kindness, generosity — and take home a box to share.
If a day at the monastery is like a meditative pause in modern life, a longer stay is a complete reset, an opportunity to unplug and refocus. Retreat themes vary from creation and mercy to yoga and photography.
Silence, part of the monks’ daily life, is often part of the retreats, encouraged but not required. A peaceful quietude reigns in the hallways and meeting rooms. Diners who want to talk have a separate area to take their meals.
“The more you’re able to maintain that silence, the more you get out of it,” explains Fuss, who’s done four retreats so far. “It helps with distraction. You’re not making social chit-chat. You’re being quiet ... to set aside conversation of the world for more introspection.”
To some extent, retreats are what guests make of them. Fuss enjoys the liturgy. She’ll sometimes rise early for vigils, a pre-dawn prayer with a half-hour of meditation in the middle. The stillness is palpable but refreshing. Even a walk is restorative. The hills, forest, creek and chapel provide a sacred backdrop for prayerful reflection or the occasional deer sighting, no cell phone ringing, no need to check social media.
“I feel like there’s an expectation now that you’re available almost 24/7,” says Fuss, a mom of three and busy management consultant. “It’s constant; the to-do list is never-ending. At the monastery, it’s a very dedicated time. You can plan for that time. Everybody can do that.”
The monastery is open daily, free of charge, though the visitor center is closed Sundays. For the retreat schedules and more, visit trappist.net.
Christmas at the Monastery
The Monastery of the Holy Spirit puts on an impressive display throughout December. Instead of lights and tinsel, it’s a celebration of the Nativity with more than 500 crèches on exhibit. The manger scenes come from all over the world and are fashioned from all kinds of material, including wood, paper and glass, says Brother Callistus Crichlow, one of the monks who lives at the monastery and serves as its spokesperson. Admission is free but donations are welcome, he says. For more information, visit trappist.net.
Sites for Seekers Looking for other spiritual getaways in Georgia? Here are a few places to keep your personal journey going long after New Year’s resolutions have faded. Guido Gardens, Metter, GA Owned by Sower Ministries, Guido Gardens is a peaceful retreat filled with flowers and fountains as well as religious structures like a chapel, empty tomb and an imaginative replica of the workshop of Joseph, father of Jesus. Leading up to Christmas, nearly 2 million lights turn the garden into a glittering wonderland. Admissions is free. sowerministries.org. The Hindu Temple of Atlanta, Riverdale, GA Built in the traditional Indian style, the Hindu Temple of Atlanta is covered with intricate, symbolic carvings in wood and stone. Visitors of any religious background may enter the temple after removing their shoes, a gesture that helps keep the inner sanctum clean. The grounds feature sculptures, plenty of space for kids to explore, and a cafe with vegetarian cuisine. hindutempleofatlanta.org. Wesley Gardens Retreat, Savannah, GA Part of a Methodist church's ministry, Wesley Gardens Retreat is a dedicated center where people can rest and reconnect in unspoiled nature. Pray in the outdoor chapel, walk the labyrinth or just wander along the garden and marsh-side trails. Guests can rent anything from a one-bedroom cottage to the large Main House for group or private retreats. wesleygardensretreat.com.