Silent Retreat | The Story
Update: At the very last minute I had to pull ‘Silent Retreat’ off the digital release version of ‘Not All the Leaves Are Falling’ as iTunes, Amazon and Spotify etc. would not accept a track which began with 60 seconds of silence. Silent Retreat is included in the track listing on the CD and Bandcamp version of the album
I put it there as a stake in the ground for me and as an invitation to you.
In the middle of our hyper-connected, always on, often shallow-souled schedules, ‘Silent Retreat’ is an invitation to discover the richness of silence as a place where you can hear your own heart echo back to you and where you can foster a deeper awareness of the Divine Presence that sustains all things.
Perhaps it will help if I tell you the story of my own relationship with silence.
Discovering Silence as a Spiritual Practice
After my homecoming crisis, I found myself unable to connect with God in the ways I used to. I used to do a lot for God, say a lot to God, say a lot on God’s behalf. After suffering broke me open, I found myself held by God instead of me holding onto him, and I found myself with a lot less to say.
As I began to recover my strength I tried to pick up my old ways of engaging with God – active, engaged prayers with words, mind and will – seeking insight, seeking direction, praying for others.
But it didn’t work.
I would try to act on my intention to connect with God by pacing around and saying loud prayers and then find myself in no time at all sitting back down and falling into silence. Without having words for it at the time, I had fallen into what Richard Rohr would describe as a second half of life spirituality and I was in the disorienting but powerful throes of liminal transformation.
I was being drawn into a different way of being with God.
Active conversation with the Origin of all things is a helpful and good practice. But there are other ways of communing with the Divine that complement active prayer and that can take us into deeper levels of trust and surrender.
As I stumbled into silence, I discovered a silence that was not passive, but dynamic. I began to sense the essence of God that exists beneath language. I began to feel held in the very deep silence of God – a full and pregnant silence where God did not need me to name, or label or voice anything to make things happen. He just was and I just was and there was something very profound and restful about letting go and leaning into that.
Sink from your shallows, soul, into eternity,
And slake your wonder at that deep-lake spring.
We touch the rays we cannot see,
We feel the light that seems to sing.
~ Thomas Merton | A Man in the Divided Sea
A Deep & Ancient River
While I was in the middle of this change of pace and rhythm in my relationship with God, I began going along to a faith community in Tauranga called St Lukes. Joseph McAuley, the lead pastor, preached a series of messages on spiritual practices. During these messages I learnt that silence as a spiritual practice had a long and rich heritage within the contemplative tradition of Christian spirituality. I was intrigued and wanted to dive deeper into this world. When I found out that a family friend was going to a directed silent retreat weekend at Titoki Christian Healing & Retreat Centre in Whakatane, I knew I had to go.
That weekend sparked the beginning of a whole new chapter in my life. Discovering the contemplative tradition of Christian spirituality has been like discovering a deep and ancient river. That weekend I discovered a stream of Christianity that felt like ‘home’ to me. After the bright and fast-paced pitch of my twenties, I was thirsty for this slower, deeper and richer way of connecting with God.
In the middle of the silent retreat, a lot of the pain I was still carrying came to the surface. The space, the silence and the intention to connect with God led me not to some magical zen place but right back into my own heart – a heart that was still filled with pain and that needed to be real with God.
Silence leads you to what is, and what is becomes the starting point for transformation and growth.
At that retreat I also met the woman who would become my own spiritual director and who has companioned me on my spiritual journey for the last three years. Retreats, spiritual direction, books and key people along the way have fostered in me a reflective way of being with God. This spiritual journey has made me much more attuned to the quiet presence of grace in the organic realities of life, in people and in nature in particular. Contemplative practices returns me to everyday life with fresh eyes and a more compassionate heart.
A Gracious Spaciousness
These practices have opened up a dimension in me that gives me a deeper sense of peace and trust, and a greater detachment from the things that make me anxious. It’s not always zen and magical. A lot of the time is spent letting go of busy thoughts or sitting quietly without any sense of experience at all. But when I do it regularly, I feel different. In this space I find more room for mystery, less need for certainty – there is breathing space and a gracious spaciousness I value so much.
The Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, has been my contemplative mentor this year. ‘A Book of Hours’ is one of the most profound resources I have ever encountered and something I dip into most days before my centring prayer practice.
So there you have it – a longer than intended history of my own relationship with silence as a spiritual practice.
What About You?
I wonder what ‘Silent Retreat’ will mean to you?
- Perhaps you will just skip the track and think I’m a bit weird. That’s okay.
- Perhaps you already know the value of silence for soul care and this will serve as a reminder.
- Perhaps you resist silence and this may serve as a gentle provocation to find out why.
- Or perhaps this is a new idea and it may serve as an invitation to find out more.
Centering Prayer Practice
There are many different types of contemplative prayer and ways to embrace silence. I am working with a daily silent meditation practice called ‘Centering Prayer’ as outlined by Cynthia Bourgeault in her book ‘Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening’. In truth, I feel I am dancing in the shallows of it, and my intention is to establish a deeper commitment to this practice this year.
For basic instructions on Cynthia’s Centering Prayer CLICK HERE.
To purchase her book via Book Depository CLICK HERE
Breathing Prayer Practice
It can be difficult to sit in silence for even five minutes to start with. A gentle practice to begin with is to engage in breathing prayer.
Find a quiet and comfortable place where you won’t be interrupted and set a timer for 5 minutes. Sit comfortably, close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing for five minutes. Don’t try and breathe any particular way, just breathe – noticing the rise and fall of your chest and being aware that the Divine Presence is within you – as close as your breath. If you need something to stop your mind from writing shopping lists, imagine that you are breathing in the love of God and breathing love out into your relationships.