When you read that an event is in Colorado, the details can grab your attention. When someone extends an invitation to you to attend the event, you become more curious. Stopping to read about it and having an invite sends me a signal maybe God is nudging me to consider a new opportunity. After some reflection and prayer time, my registration and airline reservations were complete for the Soul Connections retreat in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
It would be my first time attending a spiritual retreat. I had no idea what to expect. I knew that I needed some time away to better connect with God, to reflect on some life circumstances and to be someplace where no one needed anything from me, to just be. The retreat schedule was simple and easy-play rest time, worship time, short learning times about rest and play and two sessions for individual spiritual direction. My play and rest time involved hiking on trails near the property, laying in a hammock during the afternoon and welcoming the big fat raindrops that fell intermittently, enjoying the sounds and visions of nature, and having quiet time to listen and be in conversation with God.
During the retreat, we observed a day of silence. I admit this was my first time to participate in a day of silence. Following some lively discussions and laughter in the morning, we had a music-filled worship that ended with the invitation to silence.
Ruth Haley Barton says, “We are starved for quiet, to hear the sound of sheer silence that is the presence of God himself.” Before this experience, I would not have said I am starving for silence! Silence is hard, but silence is needed. We live in such a noisy, distraction-filled society that finding time away in solitude and finding ways to quiet our minds can be difficult. I struggle to quiet my mind even when I am by myself! Sound familiar to anyone? I have tried contemplative prayer and can only get so far. I have a desire to experience the presence of God and learned through a day of silence that with practice, I can quiet my mind and find communal time with God and with the other retreat attendees.
Here are a few learnings from a day of silence:
Going on a hike by myself made observing silence easier for me as other people were not around me. The opportunity to observe the beauty of God’s creation and to hear nature were welcoming activities while my head continued to spin with internal chatter. The hike ended with me finding some ice cream (selected from a freezer) and landing on a hammock. (It was odd not chatting with the clerk at the register!) The wind blew, as I lay in the hammock, a reminder that God was present. The time journaling helped to still my mind as I began to relax and look up into the sky, watching the clouds move, listening to the running water, feeling an occasional sprinkle and soaking in the bright sunshine. Truly feeling the presence of God in my midst as I explored ways to find some sacred rhythms for my life when I returned home to the daily busyness of life.
Participating in meals with others when words are not shared seems weird and awkward. Meals can be a time of fellowship together, a sharing of stories and experiences which leads to a sense of connection with someone. When in silence, you find connection in a smile, in a simple nod goodbye, in a silent laugh as a hummingbird speeds by your face while eating and in knowing that those around me are on a similar journey this day.
Observing evening vespers gathered with others while in silence was a heavy experience. Gathered in a room that had been our space of connection and engagement felt heavy as we sat together in silence, guiding ourselves. A bell was the signal to move through prayers, reflections, and scripture.
It might have been the longest forty minutes I have felt in a while! I was reminded of how often we use words to fill the space when words aren’t necessary. A group gathered in silence, yearning for connection with our living God, feeling a sense of healing in whatever way was needed for each of us.
Experiencing joy in the sound of worship after a day of silence warms your heart. Voices lifted in song and prayer together felt renewed, and excitement for greeting one another filled the space. As an extrovert, I welcomed the opportunity to talk again but also appreciated what the experience of silence had given me.
In your relationship with God, how much is filled with your voice and how much is filled with silence? What might you be missing without time for silence?
I encourage you to consider spending an hour in silence to see what the experience might be like. I encourage you to offer an extended time of silence (five to ten minutes) during a leadership meeting or bible study to experience being with a group as you engage with God in a different way.
I challenge you to consider a retreat where you may experience some time away and discover a deeper relationship with God amid the solitude and silence. Our group contained elders, a deacon, retired clergy, residents in ministry, licensed local pastors, laity and youth. We all need space for healing, discovery and time with God.
While I give much thanks to the conference and the planning team for this opportunity, you can find spaces throughout Missouri to observe a day apart from the noise and distractions of our world to find the quiet sacred space with God. Give yourself a gift — spend some time with God!