Poustinia is a Russian word that means “desert.” Catherine wrote a book called Poustinia: Encountering God in Silence, Solitude and Prayer which is now considered a modern spiritual classic. It explains in detail the spirituality of making a poustinia, which entails going apart from the community to a cabin where one fasts and prays in solitude, generally for a day.
Poustinias at Madonna House are usually small, simple cabins or rooms, furnished with a hard bed, small table and chair, the Bible, a plain cross, and perhaps an icon of the Mother of God. It is here that the staff members go to “make a poustinia.” Scripture is the only book taken to poustinia. Through the praying of Scripture we are immersed in the word of God. To this, fasting on bread and water is added. The intention of poustinia is always for others, for the needs of the Church, the world and those who have asked us to pray for them.
Volunteers and guests who have spent time living and working with the community in Combermere may, under direction, also go into poustinia. Being soundly grounded in community is important for the newcomer.
As Catherine said of the poustinia, “You are there in silence with God so that he can speak to your heart. The word poustinia is Russian, meaning ‘desert.’ It means, geographically, a place like Sahara, but it also means more. It means the lonely place that souls sometimes have to enter, to find the God who dwells within them. For a long time I have been thinking that we of the Lay Apostolate of Madonna House should have a poustinia — a desert to which we could go, to be in solitude and silence, to pray, and do penance. I make intercession before God, for my fellow men, my brothers and sisters in Christ, whom I love so passionately in him and for him. Every Christian must do more — with vows or without — wherever they are, whoever they are. We must do more.