By: Sister Meredith, O.C.D.
“Silent? Me?” That’s often the response I get when I invite people to our weekend silent retreat. It comes with a shake of the head and a nervous laugh. I get it. As a Carmelite Sister, I have felt that feeling bordering close to fear when I’ve approached my yearly 8-day silent retreat. Yes, you read right…8 days of silence. No computer, no television, no cell phone, no talking for 192 hours. I think the close-to-fear feeling is because I’m afraid of what God will tell me.
Yet, I do know in my heart of hearts, this fear is illogical. I find this to be true a few hours after the retreat begins. Perhaps it would make sense if God was like some militant king just waiting to pounce on his subjects.
No, this is not the real God. The Christian God is the God of love, mercy, and forgiveness.
He is the God that said, “You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and…I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile,” (Jeremiah 29:13-14). He is the same God who said to the prophet Hosea about his adulteress wife, “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her,” (Hosea 2:14). In his typical style of story-telling, Jesus shares about the prodigal son who ran away with his father’s inheritance squandered it on prostitutes, then came back to his father contrite and destitute. Jesus described the Father in heaven as one who looked out for his son’s return, and upon seeing him from a distance, was filled with compassion and ran to embrace and kiss him (Luke 15:11-32).
How do we come to know this good Father? In silence. Silence is the way to the Father. Silence enables the soul to lift the mind and heart to God in prayer.
But what happens when I do enter into silence? What do I do? To this, I would answer with another question. How should we respond when we come into the presence of Love? Nothing. We don’t have to do anything. It’s not about doing, but of being. We need to simply be present to the one whom we know loves us, as Saint Teresa says. We allow the healing power of silence to quiet down our fears, to open up our hearts and receive the inflow of grace that is His strength. And when we don’t know what to say, Saint Paul says to the Romans, “…the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” Romans 8:26
Jesus is a true gentleman. He wants us to come to Him in total freedom, not out of fear and He will not compete with other things that vie for our attention. If we allow superficial things to distract us, He respects our decision and waits. However, if we do choose to give him even 5 minutes of silence in the morning, or a silent car ride on the way to work, we come to find this quiet time to be a source of life and renewal. Silence is that sacred space where Jesus comes to the foreground, like a blurry image finally coming into view. Then we will see clearly His loving gaze, a smile of acceptance, and an invitation to simply be held in His loving embrace.
This is what the weekend silent retreats are about at Sacred Heart Retreat House. It’s about permitting all the noise in our lives to quiet down and take the back seat. It’s about choosing to let our worries pause and to let the world turn without us for just a few days. It’s about turning to the Living God and giving Him our total and undivided attention so that our hearts may be opened to hearing Him proclaim His undying love for us. Yes. It’s not just silence for the sake of silence, but a life-giving silence that allows the Eternal Word to speak.