Each year I try to spend a week in silent retreat. With my travel schedule, that can be a challenge. However, if I attach the retreat to other travel, so that I’m already away from the temptations of the office and the “to do” lists of home, I can sometimes swing it.
Last March, I had the good fortune to visit Australia on business. I scoured the web and consulted some friends and ended up at a beautiful convent outside of Sydney for a week at the end of my trip. The sisters at Jamberoo Abbey were very welcoming of their itinerant Anglican guest.
I should note that a silent retreat does not necessarily mean one lives in solitude. In fact, if one goes to a monastery or a convent, one lives in community with others. At Jamberoo Abbey the sisters very helpfully provided those of us on silent retreat with a small medallion to wear when venturing outside of our cottages to signal that we were keeping silence. I attended the noonday service and then took my main meal in the Abbey dining room. Mostly I sank into the silence and let it envelope me.
As the week was coming to an end, I will confess to getting a bit antsy and broke my silence by texting a bit with my wife. I was missing her. I took it as a signal from God that the retreat had been successful and it was now time to turn my thoughts to home. Otherwise, aside from participating in worship, I did not speak for seven days.
This year I did not go to Australia. Instead, I went with my family to Sandusky, Ohio. Not Australia, I grant you, but starkly beautiful in its own way.
For reasons too involved to explain, my family rented a house on the shore of Lake Erie last week. The main living space had floor to ceiling windows with unobstructed views of the lake. Because it was off-season (to put it mildly) there were very few other houses occupied near us, giving the sensation of being apart from the world.
Because there wasn’t much to do, we didn’t do much. Literally the only outing we made was to the grocery store. Mostly we slept, read, and ate.
We (really I) tried to enforce silence until 5 p.m. each day. That was a mixed success. However, I’m a notoriously early riser and so every morning I would get up and sit in silence for at least six hours before the rest of my family emerged.
It was by sinking into that soothing silence that I could begin to untie the Gordian knots that I don’t feel I have time to address in the hustle and bustle of the whack-a-mole life I feel like I lead sometimes.
Each day God would grace us with a stunning sunrise (which I alone would savor) and sunset (which was more of a family affair) reminding me that in the silence one is never alone.