Happy Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary! Calah’s post over at Patheos today struck a chord. I, too, have struggled through the excruciating cone of silence that is a silent retreat, yet was ultimately pleasantly surprised by the experience. The following post was originally published FIVE YEARS AGO this month after my very first silent retreat. Wow. That was two children, a few jobs, and one epic cross-country move ago. Interestingly, I make a few references to writing more about the experience, but I never did. Perhaps it’s time for another silent retreat?? Mum’s the word!
Let’s just get this out of the way now – I’m a talker.
While I’m not the chattiest of all the women I know, I think I could hold my own in a talking contest. Especially if I got to talk about faith and family and the state of the world. I’m not a big fan of chit-chat; I like to go deep.
So when my spiritual director suggested I go on a women’s retreat as a kind of “capstone” experience after meeting with her for six consecutive weeks, I thought it sounded like an awesome opportunity to connect with other like-minded Catholic women to learn some cool stuff and share about our faith. It took surprisingly little time to talk my husband into letting me go for the weekend (thanks, Hon!), and it was all set. My first retreat by myself. Yay!
The funny thing is, going in to it, I had absolutely NO IDEA that it was a silent retreat. None. I mean, there wasn’t anything indicating as such on the retreat flyer, and my dear spiritual director didn’t happen to mention it, interestingly enough.
Upon arrival, someone casually mentioned, “Ladies, enjoy your conversation with dinner, because there won’t be any talking allowed after that point.” Huh? Saywhaaa? A women’s retreat with no talking? Isn’t that an oxymoron? I quickly surmised that either this was the 3rd circle of hell, or that someone would be coming out with a video camera soon to tell me that this was all an elaborate hoax.
But, no – they were serious. And, after a brief stint of sheer panic, I genuinely smiled and had to chuckle as it finally sunk in. I thought about how, yet again, Our Lord has a pheNOMenal sense of humor. Did I mention I like to talk??
Okay, so if the younger version of myself ever heard that I would actually go to a silent retreat, let alone actually ENJOY it, I think younger me would have dropped dead from shock. Friday night through Sunday morning without saying anything out loud but prayers??? Ha! You’ll never survive, I would have told myself.
But I did. I survived. In fact, I more than survived. I – the real me – thrived. Are you kidding me??! Nothing came out of my mouth but prayers (morning prayer, Mass, confession, evening prayer, stations of the cross, the rosary, personal meditation) for almost the whole time. And it was evident the Holy Spirit was working. More on that in another post later.
Because one of the things I learned on my recent retreat is that less really IS more. I won’t go on and on about the retreat itself, but here are a few nuggets I picked up:
- God is present in the silence. If you don’t allow silence, it will be much, much more difficult to hear God’s voice.
- In the silence, your heart and soul can be nourished in ways you didn’t know you were hungering for.
- When the only words you say are prayers, you realize that many words aren’t necessary whatsoever, including “Please pass the salt,” which I thought would be pretty important at mealtime.
- Solitude can be an amazing time of self-discovery. When you are alone, you’re never really alone, because God is there, too. I took Fr. Dave Pivonka’s Spiritual Freedom with me into my times of solitude and would recommend it to anyone seeking a closer relationship with Christ.
- Silence takes discipline, but we are all called to be obedient as disciples of Christ. Our obedience can allow God’s presence to be evident to us and those around us … more on that in a later post.
If you don’t yet understand why we need silence and solitude as an integral part of our spiritual journey, I suggest you read The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen. It is a wonderful, pithy text that pulls from the wisdom of scripture and the Desert Fathers to draw us into a deeper connection with God our Father.
Watch for another post soon that will humbly tackle practical ways in which to live out the lessons of the silent retreat.