While I do have some introvert tendencies, I score higher on the extroverted side. That fact, coupled with my previous experiences of retreats where the sharing and fellowship were key, led me to steer clear of silent retreats. After all, I took plenty of silent time daily to pray and be by myself.
I had signed up for a three-day retreat that sounded perfect: a combination of self-directed, leader-led, and group discussion on a topic about which I was in need of discernment. But after considering the long drive there (five and a half hours each way – and I had already driven a total of 15 hours the last ten days) and a back injury (and maybe a God nudge?) led me to cancel my reservation and call our Dominican Retreat and Conference Center. Knowing they were only about 130 miles from my current location in the Adirondacks, I discovered that while they would be having a week-long silent retreat for women, some women were only coming part of the time, so I was welcome to come at the end of that week. I was told I could get spiritual direction, so I made the commitment to go for two days.
When I first arrived, I’ll admit I was uncomfortable and ate lunch outside in part to lessen the anxiety of not talking. An additional challenge was that after my hour of spiritual direction, I was not given much direction on how to spend my time. I am generally a person who likes structure (lists and day planners are common even on vacation!) so this too put me out of my comfort zone. However, with the encouragement of my spiritual director, I decided to be patient and process what I needed to process with prayer and other activities. The last 24 hours have been a time of comfort, grief, anxiety, and awareness of God’s presence and love. I contemplated in old ways (like reading a spiritual book) and new (using a hand labyrinth). I learned that “silent” basically meant no talking – participants are encouraged to listen to music, visit the gift shop, and even take a nap. I experienced community during supper (we were allowed to visit during this meal if we wanted), reconnecting with a peace Associate and Sister. The days did have some structure in that there were prayer reflections and daily Mass. I am hopeful that this preaching is a fruit of this contemplation.
I did extensive journaling and one of my insights was that going on retreat is like therapy for your relationship with God. I encourage all of you to consider giving this gift to yourself.