When I tell people I am going on a week’s silent retreat, the usual reaction is a grimace. A whole week without talking? Follow-up questions usually run along the lines of, “You mean outside of the sessions?” or “You mean outside of the meals and breaks?” or some version of looking for an out.
I do talk with my spiritual director once a day—a check-in to see where God is leading me—but otherwise there are no sessions, no chitchat, no casual conversations, no television or internet. Retreat is an opportunity to disconnect from the world. Every year, I look forward to it.Once people accept I really mean silent, the next question is usually, “Then what do you do all day?”
Mostly, I pray, meditate and rest. I also take walks—both exercise and meditative walks. I knit and do puzzles, and I write—a lot.Abide in love was the phrase I took with me on retreat this year. I was clear this phrase was from 1 John 4:16 rather than John 15:9 (As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love.) Although this is one of my favorite scripture passages, I hear it more as an invitation to stay close to Jesus, to remain by his side.
I hear the other abiding to be more outward focused—as if there is a pool or lake of love and I am invited to stop there, to dip into this pool of love, and then go out to others.The beauty of stepping away from the world is that it offers an exceptional opportunity to be mindful, and I find it much easier to notice what I notice, to pay attention to the words, images and memories that arise in the silence.One day, after a long walk, I sat on a dock overlooking a wildlife area—a frozen bog with brown grasses swaying gently in the breeze—and a Simone Weil quote about a labyrinth popped into my mind.
The story is that a person enters the labyrinth. He continues walking, not really knowing if he is making progress or merely walking in circles. Eventually, with courage, he finds the center, and there he meets God. God consumes him, and he is changed by this encounter. Afterward he will stay near the entrance so that he can gently push all those who come near into the opening.I love the image of meeting God in the center and then being consumed by God—to give myself over completely, to surrender to God and to be changed by the experience.
Reflecting on that image reminded me of something I had read on the feast of St. Francis de Sales the week before—about encouraging people to find the religious dimensions of their lives.
Noticing what I noticed, I wondered if God is calling me to be someone who stands at the entrance of the labyrinth and gently pushes others toward the center.