Scrambled Souls and SILENCE – An Accessible Addiction

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.


Gail Seidel served as Mentor Advisor for Spiritual Formation in the Department of Spiritual Formation and Leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and as an Adjunct Professor in the D Min in Spiritual Formation in the D Min Department at Dallas Theological Seminary. She has a BA in English from the University of Texas, a Masters in Christian Education from Dallas Seminary and a D Min in Spiritual Formation from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She is a contributor to the textbook, Foundations of Spiritual Formation, Kregel Academic. She served as co-director for Christian Women in Partnership Russia with Entrust, an international church leadership-training mission. She and her husband Andy live in Fredericksburg, Texas. They have 2 married children and 6 wonderful grandchildren--Kami, Kourtney, Katie, Mallory, Grayson, and Avery.


  • Olanma Ogbuehi


    Hello Gail,

    Would you distinguish this silent retreat from the practice of mystical contemplative prayer.  It's just I'm wondering what your mind is doing in the silence.  It seems undoubtedly helpful to be relieved of the everyday distractions that clutter our thoughts, but what your post does not tell me is how your mind is being fruitful in this silence.  It may just be that I am missing the obvious, but I know that when I rise early in the morning before the hustle and bustle of the day, then it means that I can attend more fully to God's word.  I do not get from your post how you are using this silence to listen to God.  If in the quiet I am more thoughtfully, more prayerfully paying attention to God's word and meditating on it, in a way that the Biblical writers would have understood (filling my mind with God's word, rather than emptying my mind) then I can imagine a silent retreat could be really helpful for spiritual health and growth. 

    I just think it would be helpful to clarify this practice, because many religions and 'spiritual' groups practice silent contemplation and the emptying of the mind.  Because this kind of practice can lead to mystical experiences, many people from different faith background end up finding agreement and commonality through such practices as this.  Therefore, if it is not about attending to God's word (i.e. listening to God's voice) then I think it is potentially advocating a dangerous practice which can lead people away from the truth of God's word.

    Please could you clarify your meaning?

    Thank you,



  • Gail Seidel

    Focusing on God’s Word in silence


    Ola, in silence you are not emptying your mind, rather you are clearing your mind of the multitude of daily distractions.  You do this in silence so that you can focus your mind on what God is saying to you through His Word and reflect upon His grace and goodness to you in your life. Silence offers you a gift to be able to concentrate solely on the Lord as revealed in the Scriptures.May God meet you through His Word and may your reflection on His Word help you know Him better.