One of my best friends and I had decided (after much deliberation!) to participate in this particular retreat. To say we were anxious is an understatement. The thought of spending eight days in silence was intimidating and although we had both been raised in the Catholic tradition where retreats were fostered and encouraged, neither of us had ever participated in a “silent retreat.”
My children were in grade school. My husband was supportive. My mother however, was rather anxious about my plan. She called my five sisters and said: “I wonder if something is wrong with Susie? She’s going away for eight days of silence!” My phone rang for days as I reassured everyone that all was well…I was simply going on retreat. I was acting with confidence but in reality, I wasn’t feeling at all sure of myself.
As the time drew near I began to wonder what I would do for eight days. I would meet with my spiritual director for an hour each day but that left 23 hours to fill! I decided to pack my car with books about prayer, reflection, saints and God. I also devised a plan with my friend to find a way to talk quietly together about our retreat experience every night. These strategies helped me to muster up more courage.
Arriving at the retreat center, I was greeted by the director of the center. She welcomed me with gracious and kind hospitality. I unpacked my car and settled into my comfortable room. There were flowers on the table and a gentle breeze was blowing through the window. “So far so good,” I whispered to myself.
The first thing on my schedule was a meeting with my assigned spiritual director. She was a woman from a religious community who had several years of experience as a retreat director. Her eyes were sparkling and her smile was genuine. I told her nervously that this was my first experience with a silent retreat. She responded with a grin and said: “I watched you unpack your car today. You certainly brought many books!” I smiled back and said: “Yes, they all have a spiritual focus.” She replied kindly, “Why don’t you put the books back into your car—you really only need one book—the Bible.” I held my breath. She also remarked, “I noticed you came with your friend. You will both find tremendous freedom in the silence.” I could see the sharing time with my friend was slipping away from my grasp and my heart sank. So much for my strategies.
She went on to explain how the beauty, power and wonder of the silence would allow me to focus totally and completely on God’s love. She asked me to trust God and to gently let go of my own “plans.” Finally, she handed me a Bible and invited me to reflect on Psalm 139. As I left her office, the mumbling to myself began…
When I returned to my quiet room, I noticed a sense of peacefulness. I lit my candle and opened the bible to Psalm 139. The language began to flow through me and around me inviting me to connect with God. I had never experienced those words the way I experienced them that evening. The profound intimacy of a God who would probe me, understand me and rest a guiding hand upon me touched me deeply. Further into the Psalm I read the words “You knit me together in my mother’s womb…” and my tears began to flow. I pictured God and my mother and felt their incredible and deep love for me. This Psalm had invited me to an almost mystical level of union with God and it was only the first evening of my retreat!
The eight days were amazing. The silence offered a freedom I had never before experienced. God spoke to me and rested a hand on me in loving affection as I walked the trails, journaled, listened to beautiful music and sat by the river. To my amazement, the time went by very quickly. On the eighth day as I left the retreat center I saw an incredible double rainbow in the sky. Through misty eyes, I whispered, “Thank you.”
My annual eight day retreat has become an integral part of my life. I haven’t missed one in 16 years. Each retreat is different because life is a journey and I am always in a new and different place. What doesn’t change is the silence which continually pulsates with God’s life and energy. And it all began with beautiful Psalm 139 and a God who invited me to slow down and see; a God who waited for me to find the sacred space to be loved and to be known beyond measure.
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