Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Retreat to Silence

What is spirituality?  What is a silent retreat?  Who is God to me at this time in my life?  Do I have doubts?  What is a pilgrim heart?  

The questions above were ones I recently encountered at a silent retreat at The Cenacle, a Retreat Center in Metairie (a suburb of New Orleans), Louisiana that has as it's mission to minister to women in all stages of life.  I have a close friend that had been to a number of silent retreats, and I've wondered if I could ever go to a place of silence for a weekend.  The thought of staying silent in the midst of others seemed an impossibility for someone that is a talker like me. The idea intrigued me though.  So, when an old friend from college posted on Facebook about an upcoming silent retreat, I felt a nudge inside to go. It seemed like the perfect timing.  Since the retreat was only an hour away from my hometown, I could visit my parents as well.  On a leap of faith, I signed up for this retreat ready to meet the challenge of quietness for the sake of growing closer to God. Another interesting fact is that the retreat was going to be a Catholic one, and I am not Catholic.  The friend that posted the retreat I had not seen in over 27 years.  I had no idea what to expect except rigid silence and very plain monastery type food. 
Arriving at the retreat center late that Friday afternoon, I was greeted by my old friend who informed me that we'd be sharing a bathroom.  I was somewhat relieved, yet a little anxious about this first in our friendship.  There were over 50 women eating dinner that night that talked nonstop.  No plain food there.  We had delicious gumbo!  After dinner and our introduction to the retreat by the Director of the Center, Dr. Paul Ceasar, and our speaker, Father Philip Chircop, we began our silence.  The topic for the weekend was "A Big Heart Open to God".  How open was my heart going to be this weekend?  All I knew was I wanted my heart to be open enough to take in all of these new experiences.  I wanted my heart to stretch to hold more of God and His love for others, and even for myself.  After the night's talks, back to our small, simple, comfortable rooms we went to begin our silence.  

The next day, Saturday, consisted of two talks by Father Philip, a Mass, and two meals before we had an afternoon of time to just "be" with God. When I got to Mass, I saw a friend that I had grown up with in Baton Rouge.  She was able to come to the retreat after someone else cancelled. It was hard not to speak out loud to her, so we hugged, and at meals sat across from each other and smiled.  After lunch, I chose to have a meeting with a Spiritual Director which was a recommendation by my friend. The time with her was another confirmation that I was to be there.  Afterwards, I headed over to the levee next to Lake Pontchartrain which is located behind the Center to walk and take pictures.  For me, photography is a form of worship.  Through my camera lens, I see so much more of God's world  The air was crisp, and it felt good to be back to my Southern roots where my spiritual walk began.  My prayer was, "Speak, Lord, I am listening."  

Be Still
After dinner and another inspiring message from Father Philip, there was a Reconciliation Service in the Chapel.  We were to come up with one word that described what we were most grateful for presently and one word to describe the "thorn in our flesh" or a sin we needed/wanted to confess. I had a difficult time in the afternoon coming up with my one word sin. My friend said, "Why don't you ask Him (God)?"  I thought that was a good idea, and was humbled that I had not thought of it. (Yes, we broke the silence for a few moments.)  Right before the service a word came to me that described the "sin" I was to share.  During the service we went up to Father Philip, spoke our two words, listened as he said prayers of forgiveness and blessing over us, and wished us peace.  Simple and sweet is how I'd describe reconciliation.  It was only 7:30 p.m., and time to go to our rooms for more quiet and sleep.  With gratitude, I closed my eyes and slept with peace.  

The final day consisted of breakfast, Mass, our final message, and goodbyes.  I looked around at all of the women, and felt a kindredness with them.  Each had a story to tell that involved heartache and joy.  In the silence, I had experienced kindness, thoughtfulness, and smiles of affection.  I had experienced God through other human beings.  Without words, there was communication.  As we left with hearts stretched wider with love for God, it was time to go down into the valley of reality.  I felt excited to leave knowing my heart was full, and that there were still words and experiences to process.  

Here are my answers to the questions in the first paragraph. Spirituality is to "wake up" to God in my life, to experience Him in everyone and everything.  A silent retreat is one that is contemplative, not rigid, but has a purpose to only draw me closer to God.  To me, God is the great I Am.  He is the most gifted Creator, Author, and Artist. He is the One that came to earth in the form of a human being, Jesus, to be able to relate better to me, someone that struggles again and again in this life. Yes, I have doubts at times.  Father Philip said doubts are positive. Without doubts, we cannot experience faith.  Doubting Thomas was one Jesus' disciples.  Doubting Thomas gives me someone to relate to. A pilgrim heart is a heart journeying to a sacred place.  My pilgrim heart had traveled far to meet with God, and He gave me more gifts than I deserved. 

A Fountain of Blessings
Wherever we are on this road of life, may we all take time for the silence, to draw away from a hectic world, and to pull inward to discover the answers to our deepest questions.  May all of us be blessed with God's grace, joy, and always His love.