Friday evening I had the chance to celebrate the Eucharist for a group of women at Francis House of Prayer who were on a silent retreat - seven days during which the only times they spoke were during sessions on centering prayer, lectio divina, and in offering the heartfelt responses during our shared liturgy.
For most in our busy world, filled with a cacophony of sounds almost without ceasing, such a week would be difficult; for some, it might be a form of torture. Our typical days are filled with sounds: phones; alarms; text message alerts. We drive and are alert for horns, sirens, the radio, phone calls (hands-free, I hope!) and more; some, like me, are also listening to noises that don't belong: the annoying squeek of a wiper blade, or the loose item rolling around in the trunk.
So what would we experience in silence? A very Ignatian technique for lectio divina is to place ourselves into a passage of scripture, and to imagine ourselves as a participant using all five senses. Imagine for a moment the Wedding Feast of Cana: we hear music; we smell fresh bread and fruits and meat roasting; we see the bride and groom, the joyful parents, the excited sisters of the bride; we feel the warmth of the day, perhaps the luxurious silk of a wedding garment; we taste the remarkable wine served at the end, wondering how it had been missed earlier.
Such imagination invites us to a new experience of the scriptures. A silent retreat is usually not done alone, but the experience of silence for an extended span of days brings a sharp focus to the world around us.
In the short time I shared at the retreat house with these women, I wandered outside to the chapel where we would celebrate Mass, and immersed myself in silence.
This is what I "heard:"
I heard the trickle of the fountain; I heard the scratching claws of a squirrel climbing a tree. I heard the flutter of a bird's wings as it landed near me, saw me, and immediately took flight again.
In that solitude, I also heard the Spirit urging me to pray for those on retreat ... whom I had not yet even met; in the silence I was reminded to pray for those priests who had recently lost parents, including our Bishop, Father Dan and Father John.
In the silence, the thought came to me to pray for people whose struggle in life could never imagine taking a week away to pray and immerse themselves in sacred solitude. That thought led me to pray for the families of these women on retreat, who gave them up, so to speak, for this week of prayer. In my short homily, I invited them to consider how their experience of God and the scriptures through this week may have changed them; they would go home different women than they arrived, I prayed.
In short, we have the chance to "hear" an awful lot in the midst of silence. I've mentioned before in this blog how Karl Rahner spoke often of meeting God in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. If we offer Him the time, we also meet God in the silence, whether that is for a week, for an hour, or for ten minutes.
Try it; He is waiting to whisper to each one of us in the silence.