st leo

There’s an old Simon and Garfunkel song that starts, “Hello, Silence, my old friend; I’ve come to talk with you again.”

Silence. It is quite amazing – the healing properties of silence. Do you remember back in your younger days when you’d go to a bar or pub, music blasting, people talking loud over the music, and that super ‘amped’ feeling it gave you? “Last call … for alcohol” sent you out into the parking lot and your ears would be stunned by the ‘sound’ of silence. For a moment the quiet was so loud, it hurt your ears. I remember those ‘back in the day’ days.

I was quite a bit older when I went on my first religious retreat. For years I had wanted to go on retreat but could never afford it and had kids and a job and a husband and all that busy-ness. So later in life, the kids were off in their lives, a little money in the bank, and a husband that had no problem with me being gone for two and a half days. I was excited but leary; I didn’t quite know what to expect. I knew the program we were following; our Senior Deaconess, Tina, was our ‘leader’ and Bishop Chad was our officiant. Snacks in the conference room, single person cells with bed, chair, desk, lamp, and alarm clock. We would pray and eat with the monks and Abbot. But I didn’t know what to expect, if you understand what I mean. Those with cell phones were expected to turn them off. Fat chance. But not my problem; I didn’t have one.

We all arrived separately and gathered in a lobby room then found our cells, put away our personal things, and proceeded to the conference room. I can tell you everything about it but really, the most startling thing was silence.

We ate in silence. A simple knock on the table was all the Abbot did and the monks bowed their heads – when we noticed, we did, too – the knock meant ‘say grace’. The next knock was ‘grace finished’. The third knock, awhile later, was ‘end of meal’. We were afforded ample time to be silent and I spent that time in the church, gazing at the stained glass windows, the vaulted ceiling, the stone floor, the statues. In silence. My heart and my mind started to talk to Jesus. No big discourse; just little prayers as they occurred to me. In the cell, we were to be working on a reading of our choice (faith-related, of course). Silence.

Silent breakfast – mindful now for the knocks! – and then off to the conference room. It was jarring, actually, to hear the chatter now of the women as we discussed the topic for the retreat. Then silent time. Then prayers with the monks and Abbot in the church. That schedule established the rest of our time there.

Silence. Like the freedom of taking off tight shoes. Silence. Hearing the words of my heart instead of the words of my head. Silence. Knowing He’s near. Silence. Yearning to stay in that cocoon of silence.

The day after getting home, I was supercharged. I felt 20 years old again. Unspeakable joy. Lightness of soul, mind, and spirit.

If you get an opportunity to go on retreat, do so. But only go if the monasteryis one that practices what we all need so badly. Silence.