I was encompassed in silence, a gift I chose that was offered by my church, a six hour retreat on a Saturday morning. The all-purpose room was set side for sacred use–a circle of chairs, a library of books, a table of fresh food, a labyrinth laid out, a cozy room with overstuffed chairs, tables for writing and coloring and then an empty sanctuary, with an icon of Christ surrounded by candles, awaiting to be lit in prayer. After the opening instructions and a reading from the pastor, we spent our next hours in silence.
My routine life is not very noisy. My husband and I don’t create much sound daily as we patter through our retirement ways of being. The loudest eruption is the dog as he tries to keep us safe from post-people and squirrels. Yet there is the hum of appliances, the whoosh of delivery trucks, the ringing of phones, even ones stopped by “nomorobo!” More incessant are the chirps and hums inside me, reminding me it is time to pay a bill, put laundry in the dryer, check on the neighbor down the street. Left to my own devices, I find it hard to enter into Silence. However, dropping into the retreat on Saturday, after I was welcomed warmly by those I knew even slightly, I could rest in the container created for me by the committee–the place, the nourishment, the prompts, the opportunities. It was pure Grace!
I began by breathing, attending to my breath, checking in with my body, and then walking the labyrinth, a tool for prayer that has delighted and served me well for many years in many places. In the deliberateness of the pace, I could recognize the clutter which needed release, listen for a Word coming to me to shape the day, and then I could begin to integrate that Word with what was ahead of me.
After that walk I sat down with my journal and began to note all that was coming up and where my prayers and reflections might go throughout the hours we were in silence. I listened deeply to the sacred text with which we were introduced to the day, gave thanks that I was beloved of God and that angels attended me, even in wilderness. I did some reading in Christine Valters Paintner’s book Wisdom of the Body, which has been my teacher in this Easter and Pentecost season. I spent time in gratitude for all the joy and blessing in my life. I spent time in lament for the losses of which I am so keenly aware–in my own body and experience, in the leaving of those I love, in my anxiety for the frailty of particular persons and the world.
In the stained glass lighting of the sanctuary I felt free to pour out my heart about things unknown ahead of me, for those whose need seem far beyond my capacity to touch, for the broknen-ness of people and systems. I lighted candles for some at the very top of my awareness, even now living with pain and fear.
I was nourished with healthy food, silently companioning others when they chose to sit with me in silence for lunch. Bread for the journey!
My heart turned toward a primary ministry I have now, a group of women who have met together for 10 years. Where are we being led? Who will keep on with us? Can we let go of those who move on? And how does our aging and growing shape what we do? What are we being invited to reflect on in the year ahead?
After the hours of prayer and reflection went by, I came to a place of rest. Sitting comfortably with my eyes closed, I savored in gratitude what had been provided for me in this day. I recognized that my soul was satisfied as with a great feast by having this opportunity to be in the presence of others, yet in silence given the space, time and awareness to hear the voice of the Holy to come to me in particular–for such a time as this!
I am deeply grateful for this time in which I was able to come apart and rest with the Holy in the presence of others on the journey. Savoring. Thankful. A full heart!
Personal photo from St John’s Cathedral, Denver. (not from my home church)