Above: Located on 20 acres overlooking the Chattahoochee River, the Ignatius House welcomes nearly 3,000 guests annually for mostly silent retreats. Photo courtesy of the Ignatius House.

In a world full of distractions — from endless TV channels to constantly breaking news to social media — it feels like a gift to step onto the sacred grounds of The Monastery of the Holy Spirit.

It is the 75th anniversary of this 2,300-acre oasis of peace in Conyers where 29 Trappist monks live together in solitude and silence and in lives that are rooted in prayer, study and work.

The monks meet seven times a day for communal prayer beginning with Vigils at 4 a.m. and ending with Compline (evening prayers) at 7:30 p.m. Most of these services are open to the public in the Abbey Church.

Monastery of the Holy Spirit chapel
Visitors to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers can join the monks in prayer services throughout each day at the Abbey Church, which is currently undergoing renovation. Photo by Donna Williams Lewis.

The monastery also offers extended opportunities to revitalize the spirit and rejuvenate the soul through a retreat center that can house up to 40 guests.

Brother Callistus Crichlow, who handles public relations and development for the monastery, said the retreat center is the monastery’s way of sharing the fruits of monastic life with the community at large.

“The fruits would be hospitality, spiritual insight, spiritual understanding, prudence, wisdom, compassion, the gifts of the spirit,” he said. “These are gifts not just for us, but for all.”

Here, you can step away from the noise of the world and “devote your whole being to thoughts of God, thinking of God and praying with God,” Crichlow said.

Some of the monastery’s retreats provide a quiet and contemplative atmosphere while others offer opportunities for sharing and mutual support. Personal retreats are also available when there is no scheduled program. The monastery retreats are open to people of all faiths and to those searching for faith.

The monastery began in 1944 when 21 Trappist monks left the Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky to found a monastery in the rural Georgia wilderness.

The very striking Abbey Church, which was built by the monks, features large stained-glass windows and 30-inch walls and was recently designated “Georgia’s Most Remarkable Concrete Building” as described in “The History of Engineering in Georgia.”

In addition to joining monks for services, visitors can tour the Monastic Museum at the Visitor Center; learn about the art of bonsai and shop for gifts at the Monastery Garden Center; visit the Abbey Store, which features a wide variety of gifts, books and fudge, fruitcake and biscotti made by the monks at the Monastery Bakery; and enjoy the grounds, which include the Prayer Walk, the Monastery Lakes and the Rockdale River trail.

Among upcoming monastery retreats are a Contemplative Prayer retreat on April 7; “Palm Sunday: Meeting Jesus during Holy Week” on April 12-14; Sacred Triduum on April 18-21; and the Divine Mercy Retreat on April 26-28.

Here are a few other places in metro Atlanta and beyond where you can find spiritual retreats.

Ignatius House Jesuit Retreat Center

Opened in 1960, Ignatius House was created to “provide retreat and spiritual renewal for those seeking to discover and live out God’s will in their lives,” according to its website.

Located on 20 heavily wooded acres overlooking the Chattahoochee River, the center welcomes nearly 3,000 retreatants annually. Guests enjoy private bedrooms and bathrooms, chef-prepared nutritious meals, sacred spaces throughout the grounds and liturgies in the St. Ignatius Chapel.

St Ignatius logosRetreats are based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, a published set of Christian contemplations and prayers. Unless otherwise noted, they are all silent retreats directed by certified spiritual directors.

Ignatius House offers Days of Reflection (one-day events), weekend retreats and Individually Directed Retreats that offer silence and solitude over five or eight days. Month-long retreats are also available for guests who want to do the full Spiritual Exercises. Off-site retreats are offered as well.

Guests have said Ignatius House retreats helped them acquire peace and feel refreshed and renewed.

“Silence allowed me to slow down and hear the voice of God in a very real way,” one guest wrote in a comment shared by Ignatius House.

“Ignatius House has always been a refuge for me. A peaceful environment with a sense of God’s Presence. … Meals were restaurant quality!” wrote another guest. “Thank You for providing the means for this special God-filled weekend!”

Among its upcoming seasonal retreats, the center will host “LENT: Season, Symbol, Sign and Summons” with Joseph Lingan, S.J. on March 7-10. And on April 18-21, there’s an Easter Triduum Retreat with Ignatius House staff. An 8-day Holy Week retreat is also offered.

Atlanta Soto Zen Center

Soto Zen, one of the major sects of Zen Buddhism, emphasizes the practice of zazen, or sitting meditation, and individual effort.

The Atlanta Soto Zen Center was founded in the early 1970s and offers a place to practice zazen every day of the week, along with daily and weekly discussion groups.

Among its retreats, the center holds Just Sit Saturdays every second Saturday. These are days of just sitting zazen, with intermittent 5-minute periods of walking, hosted by Michael Elliston, abbot of the Atlanta Zoto Zen Center.

This event isn’t for first-timers, who are asked to first attend the Introduction to Zen Meditation held at the center on Wednesday nights at 7:30 p.m.

Just Sit Saturdays morning sessions are from 9 a.m. to noon and afternoon sessions are 1-3:25 p.m. with a Lunch & Learn session in between. Cost is $25 for one session; $35 for both, with lunch included.

Elohee Center at Landsong

For those who’d enjoy a little road trip to escape to the North Georgia mountains, the Elohee Center offers the bliss of retreat space on 220 acres with a 100-foot waterfall, a pond and panoramic mountain views.

Elohee Center at Lakesong
The Elohee Center at Landsong offers retreat space on 220 acres with a 100-foot waterfall, a pond and panoramic North Georgia mountain views.

Andy and Carolyn Bralley purchased the undeveloped land in 2010 as a place of refuge while their daughter, Eve Cook, was battling refractory Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Today, Cook is cancer-free and attributes much of her healing to the support from nature found at Elohee.

Thirty acres of the property were set aside for the Elohee Center, which invites guests to retreats allowing for self-exploration, individual growth and mind/body healing.

Space is available for up to 50 overnight guests in seven cottages, three communal spaces, two meeting spaces and an intimate dining hall featuring seasonally inspired meals, said Cook, Elohee’s executive director.

“Elohee was born from finding a way to not let trauma get in the way of living your best life,” she said. “It brings me joy to share this healing land with others along the path of their own journey.”

Among the center’s March retreats are an Introduction to Shamanism on March 15-17; a Spring Equinox Yoga Retreat on March 22-24; a Rest & Relaxation Weekend with massages available on March 22-24; A Day of Mindfulness on March 23; and “You Are Already At The Party,” on March 28-31. That retreat comes with this description: “What would it mean to you if you really knew that everything you seek and yearn for in life, you already are and have available for your life?”   

The Painting Experience with Matthew Belay will be offered May 12-17 for people who want to explore their creativity during their retreat.

For information about retreats and to learn more

  • Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Highway 212 S.W., Conyers 30094. Info: 770-483-8705, trappiest.net. Retreat/Guest House: 770-760-0959
  • Ignatius House Jesuit Retreat Center, 6700 Riverside Drive N.W., Sandy Springs 30328. Info: 404-255-0503, ignatiushouse.org
  • Atlanta Soto Zen Center, 1167 Zonolite Place N.E., Atlanta 30306. Info: 404-895-0123, aszc.org.
  • Elohee Center at Landsong, 251 Elohee Drive, Sautee Nacoochee 30571. Info: 770-316-9195, elohee.org

Donna Williams Lewis a freelance writer based in Atlanta. She previously worked as an editor and journalist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution.