A few years back I had the opportunity to go on a retreat that was a silent retreat. We had been on silent retreats in seminary before, and I expected this silent retreat to be similar. In seminary, our retreats allowed us time to read novels for fun, to listen to some talks and even a little social time while eating by making faces at each other. This silent retreat, however, was different.
When I arrived at the retreat house, my spiritual director met me there and informed me that I would be the only person staying there for the entire week. Even he would be returning to his parish and would stop out once a day for spiritual direction. He also informed me that I would not be allowed to listen to any music or recordings, that I was not to have any literature other than the Bible, my brieverary and one spiritual book (that he assigned). He informed me that this was to be a full-silent retreat.
I confess that my first reaction was to panic. As you have probably already noticed, I am an extrovert and I perceived this approach to a silent retreat as being a form of torture. However, I was convinced that God wanted me on this retreat, and as a consequence I decided that I would try to embrace this new form of silence...and what I discovered, was that it was just what I needed. It was a silence of my very person: mouth, mind, body, and most especially, my soul.
“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) says the Psalmist, and that is exactly what I needed in my heart. Too often, I am one who enters into prayer and even without intention, I begin reviewing all of the things that are on my mind. I will begin by trying to pay attention to God and his love for me, but my mind will be so filled with ideas and activities, that I will begin planning or reviewing, rather than entering in a place of “stillness.” It is in that stillness of the mind and soul, where we are able to discover one of the greatest truths about our God, that God simply wants to love us. We need to create that time for silence where God can simply love us.
The first place we need to seek out this stillness and silence is at the beginning of prayer. Before you pray at any time, pause for a moment and realize that you are looking to God, but He has always been looking at you first. Take some time at the beginning of the morning or at the end of the day when the children are asleep to find the time of silence to realize God’s love for you. If you are able, make a silent retreat, even if it is just for a day at one of the retreat centers here in the Twin Cities.
We are active creatures and our minds and hearts are filled with many worries, thoughts and ideas. Let us not allow these to keep us from the stillness that we also need to allow ourselves to be loved by God.
Fr Nathan LaLiberte