As I mentioned last week at mass, I was on a week long silent retreat. And by silence, I don’t mean only of the voice, but of the mind. A true silent retreat is void of talking, music, visuals, electronics, and even reading anything other than the Bible (and occasionally a spiritual book). The purpose of this silence is sometimes misunderstood.
When I was speaking with a friend about my silent retreat, he replied, “That sounds wonderful. It will be a great opportunity to reconnect with yourself and do some selfreflection.” I thought about his response for a moment and I disagreed with him. The silence for a Christian is not about about focusing inward on the self, but is all about focusing outward to God.
My friend did not mean anything bad by his comment, but as we move into an era in our society, where more and more people are distancing themselves from God (as has been reported in the newspaper lately), people miss an essential truth: God loves us!
One of the basic tenants of our faith is that there is a God who is not just observing humanity, but is interacting with human beings on an individual and personal basis. And not merely interacting in the way that the Roman or Greek gods interfered in human lives, but our God is continually loving human beings. It becomes our great task to awaken, see and experience God’s love for us on a daily basis. And this is the purpose of the silence of a retreat. Many times, when God speaks to our hearts, it is in very quiet ways. In the book of First Kings, we see the prophet Elijah preparing to hear God and there was a strong wind, but God was not in the wind. There was an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. There was a fire, but God was not in the fire. Then, Elijah hears “a still small voice” and there was God.
It is in that still small voice, where we encounter God actively loving us. It is when we pay attention to God where we discover just how loved we are. When we settle our minds and hearts and clear away the “clutter,” we can choose then to hear God speak to us his words of mercy and love.
We need to choose to reduce the many noises and distractions in our lives so that we can hear God speak. This ought to be done by all of us on a daily basis. Think of the ways that you can bring about silence in your day. Not merely a silence of sound, but a silence of the mind with the purpose of paying attention to God. What adds to the “noise” in our minds and our hearts? Is it the amount of music that I consume? Is it my continual reading of the news? Is it my attention I give to social media? Is it the idol chatter I enter into? Is it my continual consumption with sports? Is it even the novels that I read? What adds to the “noise” in my mind that causes me to fail to see God’s love for me.
Silent retreats appear intimidating, but they are in fact a gift from God. I encourage all of you to attend a silent retreat at some point in your life so that you can receive His love for you. But let us not wait for a retreat opportunity, but let us choose to make periods of silence every day of our lives so that we can hear and connect with the God who loves us.
Fr. Nels Gjengdahl