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. It took surprisingly little time to talk my husband into letting me go for the weekend. My first retreat en sola – hooray!
Upon arriving at the retreat house, someone casually mentioned, “Ladies, enjoy your conversation, because there won’t be any talking allowed after dinner.” Huh?! Saywhaaaaaa? A women’s retreat with no talking? Isn’t that an oxymoron? I quickly surmised that I’d either a) slipped through a vortex into an unnamed circle of hell, or b) someone was punking me. I awaited the emergence of a hidden camera.
No hidden camera emerged. This was serious. This was a silent retreat. No talking in 3, 2, 1 …
After a brief stint of sheer panic (I have to talk! I can’t be alone with my own thoughts – it’s scary in there! What did I get myself into?!), I had to chuckle as reality sunk in. I thought about how, yet again, Our Lord (and my spiritual director, as His accomplice) has a pheNOMenal sense of humor. Me. A talker. Unable to talk.
If the younger version of myself learned that future me would actually participate in a silent retreat and actually enjoy it, younger self would have dropped dead from shock. Ha! You’ll never survive, I would have told myself.
But I did it. I survived. In fact, I more than survived. I – the real me – thrived. Nothing came out of my mouth but prayers (morning prayer, Mass, confession, evening prayer, stations of the cross, the rosary, personal meditation).. And it was evident the Holy Spirit was working. I had been afraid – afraid of the silence. And yet, God Himself is in the silence:
“Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” – 1 Kings 19:11-13
I learned on retreat is that less really IS more. Here are other 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.
If you’d like further instruction on why we need silence and solitude as an integral part of our spiritual journey, may I suggest reading 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.
And never be afraid of the silence, my sisters, for truly God Himself awaits you there.
Copyright 2015 Heather Renshaw.
Photo copyright 2015 Heather Renshaw. All rights reserved.