By Janice Loewen
Imagine, four days of silence, never talking to anyone. A silence which means no use of WIFI, phones, emails, computers or anything else that would distract you from this intense silence. Silence is not the way our usual day to day world operates.
Our lives are filled with busyness and noise. We seem to like it that way. Silence is more than a quiet time with the Lord. In our quiet times we do most of the talking. Our own chattering and talking must come to an end. This type of silence involves being still and knowing that He is God.
Let’s be honest. We all would respond to an invitation to a silent retreat with a variety of different thoughts and emotions. For most of us this is something completely new and strange. It most certainly takes us out of our comfort zone. The thought of total silence can be frightening because we fear it might reveal rough edges of our heart. We are not sure we are ready to confront our own naked heart. It cuts us off from the world and leaves us alone with God. For some of us, it is just downright hard to let go of our work or responsibilities.
Richard Foster puts it this way, “Genuine experiences of solitude undercut all pretense. In the very act of retreat we resign as CEO of the universe.”
It was no different for Arley and me. When the invitation came to us, my first response was one of pure joy and unbelief that we were offered something so wonderful. This had been something on my wish list for many years.
Arley, however, saw it as a daunting task and one that might lead him into many sceptical thoughts. How could someone as busy as he is, do nothing for five days! But in the end, we chose to go.
We were seven couple along with the mentors. Most of us had OM connections. We gathered together at a Catholic monastery in Thailand which had beautiful grounds and facilities for hosting a silent retreat. Our group was allowed to come in and use their facilities for our own silent retreat.
Each of us had our own individual bedroom with a small bathroom attached. Yes, husbands and wives were separated, each in their own room.
We began with a half day of orientation. Why come to such a retreat? What brought you here? For those of us who come from the West, this type of retreat seems out of character, a time-waster, unproductive. Our culture screams at us to be doers. To retreat is a difficult thing for an active soldier to do—it is seen as failure.
Yet as we look through the Gospels, we see that Jesus was also bombarded by crowds and demands from people. He was often on the move, going from place to place. And we read in Luke 5:15-16: “Yet the news about Him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear Him and be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
Jesus needed to hear from the Father. To stop, to rest, to enjoy and delight in the Father.
This is what we came to the retreat for. Not to tackle world issues or theological problems, not even to solve our own personal problems. We have come to rest and delight in the Father. To be silent and hear from Him.
So like Elijah, who ran to escape from the demands and dangers of ministry, we stopped and asked ourselves these questions: What are you doing here? What is your desire? Longing? What is your expectation deep inside?
It was in stillness and quietness that Elijah heard God speak to him.
Both Arley and I wanted and longed for a fresh encounter with God, and so the days of silence began.
The mornings began in silence, no alarm clocks. We woke to the rising of the sun. Some things continued as usual. Each morning, Arley and I separately went for our morning walks and prayer time.
Meals were served in a dining hall and we silently joined many others who were also on a silent retreat. All of us ate in silence, enjoying the quiet and meditative music that was played. We were encouraged to slow down intentionally and to pay attention to what was around us. For me, meal times were special, relaxed and lengthy times of meditating on the many good and wonderful things I have received from the Lord. There was no rush, no hurry to be somewhere else.
Each morning, after breakfast, we had a morning devotion as a group. We met in a small chapel. The mentors read scripture and presented thoughtful questions and other passages that we could read throughout the day. We as participants remained silent at this time and enjoyed the quietness, the contemplative music and the Word of God.
The rest of the day, we each made our own routine of where we wanted to go and spend time with the Lord. There were several small chapels on the grounds. Outdoor benches and tables with coverings to protect from the sun and heat were scattered around the grounds. There were also paths for slow, meditative walks. Something we all loved was the labyrinth, a place to walk while we ponder on Scripture, or questions or thoughts that had come up during the day or to reflect on what the Lord has done in our lives. In the centre of the labyrinth was a large rock which represented Christ. All of us felt it was a “journey” worth taking each day.
Each evening we met again as a group for a time of communion. It was such a relaxed, unhurried time and each of us by turn went up to the communion table and spent time with the Lord before taking the bread and wine. It was amazingly calm and refreshing.
And throughout the day and the various times spent with the Lord, we journaled and journaled, writing our thoughts and our hearts deepest moments spent with the Lord.
We spent much time meditating on Isaiah 55:1-13, to come, to listen and to delight, to seek God and to call upon Him; then to go out with joy and be led forth in peace.
We also spent much time in John 4:1-14, meditating on how Jesus provides the water of life which should become a spring of water within us, welling up to eternal life.
I personally enjoyed becoming much more sensitive to God’s presence and His voice.
We experienced a calmness and slowness that brought a fresh peace and quietness. Indeed, silence slows you down! Silence is a great equalizer – no one is left out, no one dominates the conversation. It was wonderful to walk and eat in silence alongside our friends and know that they too were experiencing a deep and quiet time with the Lord.
Arley and I are now developing new, spiritual disciplines in our lives. We do not want to lose the wonderful gift of drawing away from the rush and hurry of life, to be near to God in a special way of silence and to learn from Him and delight in Him.
If someone were to ask us, “Would you go on another silent retreat?” or “Would you recommend a silent retreat to others?” My answer would be a resounding, “Yes!”
Janice Loewen has been serving the Afghan world with OM since 1982.