The grounds of Villa Maria Guadalupe in Connecticut are filled with statues of Mother Mary and the Holy Family. Photo by Vanessa Santilli

Finding solitude amidst the silence on retreat

  • February 26, 2012

STAMFORD, CONN. - They say silence is golden. Well, silence is also tough. I learned just how challenging it is to be completely silent during a young women’s retreat with the Sisters of Life in Stamford over the Feb. 10-12 weekend.

Going into the retreat, I knew there were going to be periods of silence. But I didn’t quite know the full extent of it. Following our first talk of the weekend on the theme “Love Never Fails,” the sisters informed us — to my dismay — we would start our silence after compline, or night prayer. We’d break the talking fast the next day with dinner at 6 p.m. About 20 hours, with talking only allowed within the context of confession and Mass.

But after the lively introductions with the roughly 60 young women between the ages of 18 and 35 from both Canada and the United States, my initial reaction was that this was going to be impossible. All too quickly a skeptic, I called my boyfriend to let him know I was shutting off my phone. Between the usual texting and Facebook and Twitter, being generally unreachable felt wrong.

That night, I couldn’t fall asleep right away. So I read some of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis and wrote in my journal. What struck me was how still everything was. With life as busy as it is, slowing down entirely offered a stark contrast to our everyday routine. I listened to the silence for a little while longer.

The next morning we all gathered for breakfast with a backdrop of classical music. Sitting at tables with strangers and not speaking felt almost rude. But no one seemed to mind. By this point, we were all lost in our own thoughts.

Some release followed during morning prayer, where we all spoke and sang in unison. I noticed that I thought more about the meaning behind the words we were saying than I usually would. I took some time to wander the grounds around Villa Maria Guadalupe, filled with statues of Mother Mary.

So why the silence? The sisters told us that it would allow us to better hear what Jesus is trying to tell us. But before I could get to that ultimate objective, I found that with the noisiness of the everyday removed, I could hear my own thoughts a lot better.

Later that day, I sat down for a one-on-one session with Sr. Bethany Madonna to talk about whatever my heart desired. But after not speaking for a while, it felt strange to speak at a normal volume, so I whispered. She whispered back. I whispered again and then asked her if I was supposed to be whispering. She laughed and told me it was OK to speak at a normal volume. So we did, but I felt like I was breaking the serenity.

After a eucharistic healing service, a rosary walk, Mass and a couple more talks by the sisters, it was time to head home to Toronto.

Now free to communicate to my heart’s content, the silence showed me the importance of slowing down. Amidst the many ways we “speak” today, be it face-to-face or via social networking, we too often forget the value and need to truly reflect on the world around us. The silence’s gift to me was seeing the need to both listen to myself and to leave room to hear what God is trying to tell me so I can more clearly see the path down which He’s leading me.

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