The first time I went on a silent retreat, I was surprised to find how much I liked being quiet (to say nothing of how much it delighted everyone around me). This year when I went back to Ignatius House, a beautiful, wooded 20-acre Jesuit Retreat Center overlooking the Chattahoochee River, I knew the ropes.Dinner, with conversation and wine, when you arrive, but then silence falls with the sunset and the first talk in the chapel begins. (Considering that I almost fell asleep during the first reflection, perhaps I overindulged in the chardonnay?)
The first night of sleep in your pleasantly monastic little room can be a bit dicey (just because it’s unfamiliar)……but once the second day begins, you get very comfortable with the routine. Morning song and blessing is followed by breakfast, then a series of prayerful talks interspersed by empty and quiet hours to reflect, to walk, to climb up and down the steps that lace their crooked way through the woods…
…to find your quiet place by the river or waterfalls… ..or just stay in your room. But why would you, when spring is quietly coming to life all around?Through it all, the reverberations of silence make you realize what a difference not speaking makes. You don’t have to interact with anyone. In the halls, there are no loud voices … …in fact, there are no voices at all. I thought I was up at dawn on Saturday, but the total lack of television, radio, or any kind of ruckus tricked me and I barely made the 8 a.m. prayer and breakfast.
One day of silence seems infinitely long – not in an oppressive way, but in a weirdly profound stretching out-of-time. By noon, I felt like I’d been there a week. If it’s true that the voice of God is a still, small one – then silence allows you to listen, to reflect, and to see things easy to overlook.
Obviously, Ignatius House is Catholic, and it’s religious (although it’s worth mentioning you don’t have to participate in any of the short lectures if you choose not to, and several people opted out). You also don’t have to go to Communion or Confession (every non-Catholic’s worst fear).
But with so much beauty around, it’s hard not to feel as if you’re in God’s grand presence. Of course, the minute I felt totally peaceful and loving towards everyone, it was time to leave. I stopped at Trader Joe’s in my state of bliss, but after standing in line watching two young prepsters wait for the checker to ring them up, take their money, and bag every single one of their items — while they stood there like mannequins with their lazy arms stitched to their lazy sides, not making the slightest effort to help — well, I felt like clobbering them with my celery. And poof! all my magical calmness was gone.Oh well … I still say that If I can shut up for 40 straight hours, anybody can. And I highly recommend it. You may not return from a silent retreat spiritually enlightened (like my own fleeting experience with universal benevolence) but at the very least, you’ll learn that the path to peace isn’t paved with loud intentions.Shalom, sweeties!