Retreat Reflections #1: A Lot to Say About Silence

By Still Waters

“If solitude were primarily an escape from a noisy milieu, they could easily become very self-centered forms of asceticism. But solitude and silence are for prayer. The Desert Fathers did not think of solitude as being alone, but as being alone with God.” – Henri Nouwen

Whew! What a time away from the noise of life to reflect in the desert. I’m about a month away from a significant, if seemingly impractical, retreat spending someone else’s money to be silent, alone [for the most part] and renewed. The site for my retreat was the high desert in the northwest corner of New Mexico, a Benedictine monastery which is home to about 30 monks who have committed to the monastic life, the vows of silence, chastity, simplicity, poverty and prayer. Not many who do that these days.

Needless to say, the time was very rich and slow. I spent a lot of time being quiet, looking at the ants, listening to the birds, watching the clouds, praying and journaling. And of course I took long walks with my camera in hand. I was fortunate to receive a grant through the Covenant Church funded by the Lilly foundation in an effort to help pastors stay healthy, committed to excellence in ministry and connected to God. I was more than ready for this focused time in silence and solitude. Over the next few weeks I want to tell part of the story, part of my discovery and learning, and the deeper awareness of God’s love and generosity.

I feel I have a lot to share from my time of silence, which is ironic don’t you think? The Psalms became more real–again. The raw, human side that splashes out of the Psalms of lament especially. As a daily companion, the Psalms keep me honest. I cannot kid myself about the depth of my own feelings over life’s difficult pieces or the purity of my own heart when I regularly sit with them. These ancient passages in the middle of my Bible are so real and I’m glad, very glad they are in my sacred scripture. No pretense, not white-washed religiosity; plenty of passion, vulnerability, and awareness of God’s presence and sometimes his seeming absence in life. My concluding observation in this first reflection–God IS aware, and we CAN NOT be aware of that unless we stop, listen, and be silent sometimes.

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2 Comments

  1. Andy, I look forward to learning more. I want to engage in this kind of thing. The one time I did was quite powerful. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Andy. What a blessing for you to get away and reflect. I like Palmer on this. He says being alone is not pulling away from community but rather being “fully present to ourselves.” A powerful vocation for sure. Look forward to the next time we will connect.

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