There is a poem I learned in grade school titled I Woke Up This Morning. A half century later, I still know the poem by heart. The child narrator of the poem describes his day, from the moment that he “woke up this morning At quarter past seven [and] kicked up the covers and And stuck out [his] toe.” From that moment on, his day goes downhill – a series of “no”s and instruction and correction. It ends with his declaration
Well, I said
At quarter past seven
Come in and get me.
I’m Staying In Bed.
The lines came to mind as the antithesis of my feeling when I got up this morning. I woke up from my bed in the retreat house with a smile and a wink at God and then stood at the window in my room looking out at the lake with a sense of excitement at what these days will bring.
The retreat opened last night with dinner followed by an opening group session where the 55 or so retreatants and the 10 directors introduced themselves. After that we had our opening Mass, the end of which signalled the beginning of the silence retratants will observe during the retreat.
In my view, silence is an incredibly important part of the retreat experience. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once observed, “By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak…[a] space is created for mutual listening, and deeper human relationships become possible. It is often in silence, for example, that we observe the most authentic communication taking place between people who are in love: gestures, facial expressions and body language are signs by which they reveal themselves to each other.”
“A space is created for mutual listening.” That mutual listening is something that was important to St. Ignatius. Ignatius does not believe our prayer should be a one-sided conversation where we do all the talking. Rather, we want to let God speak to us, and the silence helps that. Silence allows us to let go of some of the noise and distraction that prevents us from really focusing and hearing what God wants to convey to us. There is that beautiful passage in the First Book of Kings in the Hebrew Scriptures about God speaking to Elijah: God spoke to Elijah not in the storm, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in the quiet gentle whisper which could only be heard in the silence. We want to adopt the posture of Samuel: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
And so I encouraged my retreatants not only to think of silence as refraining from conversation, but also to try to avoid checking e-mail, surfing the net or even doing a lot of reading outside of the material they are praying with.
Where do you find your silence?