The Silent Treatment

my benchThe 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.signDinner, 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)…cozy…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…path

…to find your quiet place by the river or waterfalls… waterfalls..or just stay in your room. But why would you, when spring is quietly coming to life all around?yellow dropThrough 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 … Quiet quiet hallways…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.

tree mushroomsObviously, 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).

Yeah, he's there.But with so much beauty around, it’s hard not to feel as if you’re in God’s grand presence.  magnoliaOf 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.bridgeOh 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.purple flowerShalom, sweeties!white daffs

18 thoughts on “The Silent Treatment

  1. I have repeatedly told my wife that I wish I could just stop talking for an entire year. A vow of silence for twelve months — imagine the writing we’d get done! But how would we explain to total strangers why we’re not answering them, or why we’re clobbering the prepsters with our celery?

    Beautiful post, Betty. Funny and wise, as always.

    • Thanks, Charles — and yeah! Imagine the outpouring of words on paper that might occur. Of course, celery-clobbering might also happen — but that’s twice as likely when I’m talking! Happy spring — hope you’re getting some WARMTH up there!!

  2. Thanks for sharing this. It reminded me of my own 6 and 8 day silent retreats that I have taken in years gone by. I have let church politics keep me from going back…and I have missed these wonderful times of silence and renewal. Blessings…

  3. As a fellow retreat-er, I can affirm that yes, our little community held a lovely silence but know your beautiful smile was ever-present. One of my favorite parts was walking the Stations of the Cross together in the wooded setting, surprisingly comforting.

  4. Ha!! I loved it!! Quiet is something I need to concentrate on. If there is any living moving thing around me, [my dogs, the birds and squirrels, bugs doesn’t take much for me to think something is listening] AND then there is God who either gets verbally my praise or my rants depending on the moment. The experience at Trader Joe’s also spoke volumes to me!! I am that same person always wondering why someone isn’t putting themselves out more to help the system work as smoothly as possible!! Thanks Betty! Gave me a nice laugh out loud!!

  5. This sounds wonderful and I am sure it would be a challenge for me. I might get the hang of not talking to others, but lately I talk to myself quite a lot – and yes, I do answer myself. Otherwise I would never figure out where I put my keys…smile. Love ya!

  6. Oh, Sherry – I KNOW you would always pitch in to help! I don’t know why that TJ’s situation irritated me so much — but the lines were really long and the checker was really harried and I just couldn’t get over the fact that they were both just standing there doing absolutely nothing, not even talking, and it still never occurred to them to help. You are so outgoing, I always figure you’re surrounded by people — but quiet days are probably what allows you to do so much writing, travel planning and photography!!

  7. Since i work solo, I have often wondered what a silent retreat would be like. Thanks for sharing, and for the beautiful photography. In philly – just snowdrops and crocus after winter Snowmageddon …

    • Oh my goodness … you guys have been getting hammered! I work solo, too, but somehow still end up talking way, way too much! You should try a silent retreat — it’s really pretty amazing! Happy almost spring, Betsy!

  8. Betty, thank you for this wonderful post. It really gave a lift to my morning. And the gorgeous photos! That trout lily! If this retreat center were in Minnesota and I went this weekend, I would be trampling through snowy woods, bundled up against temperatures well below freezing. But the cold leaves us with clear skies and I’ve been finding the Pleiades easy to spot recently. Thanks again.

    • Mary, thanks so much for identifying the trout lily! The first time I went out walking, I didn’t see too much of anything, but since I had my i-phone, I decided to really look for things to photograph, and lo and behold, once I really looked close there were SO many things just coming to life! And it will happen in your neck of the woods, too — hopefully soon! (But isn’t stargazing on a cold winter night the BEST??)

  9. Good morning,
    Thank you for the images and the spirit the evoke. I don’t think anyone I know would believe I could NOT talk for 40 hrs. But it is an interest ing idea.

  10. Oh, I know I would LOVE this! Totally love it! I’m not much of a talker anyway. And the hallway photo is totally cool, by the way. Hope you have an awesome weekend, Betty!

    Hugs from Ecuador,

    • Hi Kathy!! I was a bit worried that the hallway photo looked so dark and threatening (not to mention blurry) but seriously, at 9 p.m., the entire building was like a tomb and it was strangely completely calming — you knew everybody was tucked in their rooms but there wasn’t a sound to be heard. On late Saturday night it started pouring rain, and that was a lovely complement to the utter quiet. You WOULD love a silent retreat, Kathy — and then you could teach everybody all your amazing crafts without speaking a word!!!

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