What happens when 23 of your 24 hours are wordless for a week?
During my silent retreat last week at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville, Pa., I logged 36 miles walking and wrote 32 pages in my journal. I managed to read most or all of four different books, including “How to Be An Adult” by David Richo. I hid that one under my journal so my fellow retreat-goers would not think I was too remedial. (It happened to be the right book at the right time.)
The first night when three of us met with our spiritual director, Carolynne, I realized I would have some work to do. She wanted to hear about our “prayer rhythm.” I froze. At that point, my “prayer rhythm” consisted of falling asleep on the rare occasions when I tried to practice 20 minutes of centering prayer.
It was my first mini-epiphany of several that week: Gee, having a pattern of prayer actually might help me address the many other issues I felt needed attention during this retreat. So we worked on that. A good spiritual director listens intently, discerning what scripture, readings, prayer or other activity might be helpful. Hearing my desire to ensure the remainder of my life had meaning, she shared with me another inspirational book, “The Second Half of Life: Opening the 8 Gates of Wisdom” by Angeles Arrien.
That book led me to “How to be an Adult” to explore unresolved issues from the past. I won’t bore you with the details, but it was worse than I had remembered.
Walking the trails, climbing hills, and getting up at 4:45 a.m. to capture the sunrise on the longest day of the year were also part of my spiritual therapy. It was in the mid-80s all week and our rooms (and most of the huge, sprawling former Jesuit novitiate) were not air conditioned, so I guess the withering heat also was part of the purification process.
Upon re-entry to my world, everything sounded loud and rancorous. I decided to limit my consumption of MSNBC to just one hour a day, but I couldn’t make it through a half hour of “Morning Joe.” A time-sucking game disappeared from my iPad. My Facebook posts are much fewer and, so far, are snark-free. There is now an ever-so-faint rhythm to my prayer. Hopefully, it will grow louder and more persistent.
There are cushier places to go on retreat, but the beautiful setting and monastic nature of the Jesuit Center worked for me. Even though I brought four pairs of shoes along on a six-night retreat, by the end I had peeled away several layers of false self. I had written and pondered a great deal about love, prayer and gifts. The opportunity to do that was itself an amazing gift that I hope others will consider receiving.