“Silence is not so much being quiet and not saying anything. Silence is more the ability to let go of external noise to begin to listen to the internal noise of our own desires, our own fears, frustrations, and turn those over to the Lord to be in a conversation with Him.“
– Father Thaddaeus Lancton, MIC, at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy
“The voice of the Lord speaking to us is truly powerful, but tragically we so fill our lives with noise that even a voice with the power to bind and loose, to create and destroy, is blocked from penetrating into the lush garden that is the human soul, the very place where the Lord wishes most to walk in harmony with his creation.”
– Father Joshua Allen, The Beginnings of Listening
“Solitude, on the other hand, is a state of being alone without being lonely. While loneliness is self-destructive in nature, solitude is a positive and constructive state of engagement with oneself used for inner reflection and growth.”
– Shelley M. White, From Loneliness to Solitude
I have always been drawn to silence – be it adoration rooms as a child or teenager, or silent retreats in adulthood.
And maybe that is why I am drawn to the philosophy of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, that the Holy Spirit communicates with children through the contemplative work of their hands.
1st silent retreat: July 2013 at Good Shepherd Oasis
My 3 days and 2 night silent retreat at Good Shepherd Oasis in July 2013 was borne out of desperation. I had an epic summer in Hamburg-Switzerland (Zurich-Basel-Bern etc.)-Princeton, but it ended up with me messing up in Michigan.
I needed a silent retreat to clear my head, centre myself and set things right with God. The thought of being alone with my phone on silent mode for 3 days and 2 nights petrified me to say the least. I went straight from work to the retreat on Friday evening. The retreat centre was tucked atop a hill and was the perfect setting away from bustling city life.
I was briefly greeted by a grumpy nun who showed me my dining area where I would have my meals in silence, and my sleeping quarters which was basic with bare necessities. It was a surreal throwback to the 1980s. As I lay out my belongings and turned off my mobile phone, it dawned on me that I would be all alone for the next 3 days.
My first moment of experiencing God was when I showered before bed. I closed my eyes and I felt at peace, as if the rain was God’s showers of blessings washing over me akin to a baptism.
It’s been 8 years since so the details are hazy, but I recall reading a coffee table book on retreatants recollections of the Good Shepherd Oasis retreat centre. I thought I read in the book that Day 1 would be the hardest as it takes time to tune out and disconnect from the noisiness of our lives. Day 2 onwards is when you slowly enter into the sacred silence.
Since it was an unstructured silent retreat, I spent my time loitering around the premises and discovered a labyrinth walk in the garden.
There was an adoration room where I would bring my brown lined jotterbook and do free journaling – I drew and wrote whatever inspired me. It was stream of consciousness and I poured out my sorrows to God, in writing, since speaking aloud in the eerily silent room felt strange. I penned down inspired psalms and verses, and sung them aloud as I peered out of the window of the adoration room.
Each day, I would meet with an assigned spiritual director. I cried as I related to her what had taken place and she did not pass judgement but asked me to reconsider the harsh verdict I had served on myself. She encouraged me to follow through on my commitment to visit a priest for the Sacrament of Reconciliation post-retreat, which I did.
There were no talks, no priest or nuns providing spiritual food/ download. Just me, myself and God, and He spoke to me through the silence.
Truth be told, I felt awkward at times, as if I had to find something to busy myself with. I was also watching the clock from time to time, counting down to the end of the retreat, and convincing myself that I was doing great.
But seconds turned into minutes, which blended into hours, and before I knew it, the retreat was over and I left as unceremoniously as I had arrived.
I left the retreat more assured of God’s love for me despite my sinfulness and more ready to face the world again :).