Eleven years ago this fall I was invited to go on a “silent retreat”, the kind where you literally do not speak during the time period for silence. This particular one was for 36 hours. Some of my friends were incredulous. “How can a group of women be silent for that long, for any amount of time?” One of my relatives emailed me and asked, “Just what does one do on a silent retreat, like – what’s the purpose?” One colleague even ventured to look at me as if to say, “YOU, silent?”
Until this first silent retreat I had not experienced the phenomenon of stopping to enter into silence and waiting for that length of time, simply being present to the Lord and whatever he might want to say to me.
Our minds and souls get scrambled- the consequence of always traveling at breakneck speed in the “fast lane” – never stopping, rarely pausing and most often feeling behind and like you will never catch up. Anxiety rushes in to replace any clarity you had. The pressure of panic replaces any semblance of peace that used to reside in your soul…clues that I must pull away and give time for my soul to catch up.
Because we live in such a noisy world in the 21st century and because we are surrounded with a plethora of technology we are never without access – cell phones, iPods, talk radio in the car, talk radio in the kitchen, talk radio “piped” into the bathroom; music to fall asleep and be wakened by, music quietly playing into your computer while working so you don’t have to be “alone”, music in the restaurant, music in the dressing rooms, blaring noise, noise, noise – easy access to the addiction of technology.
It takes while to detox from all of this when you first enter into silence. Adele Calhoun, in Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, defines silence as “a regenerative practice of attending and listening to God in quiet, without interruption and noise. Silence provides freedom from speaking as well as from listening to words or music.”
She goes on to say that the desire for silence comes from a longing “to free myself from the addiction to and distraction of noise so I can be totally present to the Lord; to open myself to God in a place beyond words.” In the gospels our model is: “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” In the Psalms, we are encouraged to do the same in order to "access" God, “Be still and know that I am God."
“My soul waits in silence for God only; from Him is my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation. My stronghold. I shall not be greatly shaken.” Psalm 62:1-2 NASB
This blessing of entering into a guided silence in community has become a yearly “sacred rhythm” for me, the kind Ruth Haley Barton talks about in Sacred Rhythms. I did not know how desperately I needed it. It has become an intentionality to attend to Him away from the access of all other addictions. Silence purifies the clutter clamoring in my head and makes words ever so much sweeter. It’s transforming. It’s freeing. It’s addictively accessible.
“The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” Psalm 23:1-3
Consider trying this and then, tell someone about it.