Sunday, October 17, 2010

Eight Days of Silence: Nuts and Bolts

Afternoon Prayer Chair

Funny thing: when I stopped by the seminary to see friends on my drive home from retreat and folks learned where I'd been, the most common immediate first reaction was, "I could never be silent for eight days ~ not even for eight hours!"  And then when the shock wore off, they'd ask me what it's like.

This is only the second time I've made it through a scheduled retreat where 40 other people are doing the same thing. (A year ago, overwhelmed by grief, I left in the middle.)  Both times we've arrived late in the day and there's been a group orientation meeting, and both times I've met with my director that evening as silence falls upon the house. 

The rest of the days go like this:  You meet with your director at some point; he or she listens to what you have to say about your prayer/contemplation/meditation/attentiveness to God or lack thereof since your last meeting, and suggests something for the next 24 hours.  Usually your director is assigned to you, or is perhaps a person you've met with in years past.  This year, I sought out someone in particular, writing to him in July after learning that he has a lot of experience with the issue that pervades my life: surviving the suicide of a child and going forward (and often backward) to rediscover God in a place of exile and sadness.

You can go to Mass if you are so inclined.  The  worship is informal but beautiful, and the homilies are more or less directed at the retreat process.

There are three scheduled meals and a kitchen that's always open with drinks and snacks available.  Wernersville wasn't quite as silent as Guelph, where even the kitchen staff works in silence -- but it was close enough.

Wernersville is a massive facility -- it once housed 150 young men in their first years of Jesuit formation -- and so there is a large and gorgeous chapel as well as several smaller chapels and parlors, two wonderful libraries, and lots of other indoor spaces for solitary quiet.  (Of course, for the directionally challenged among us, a huge building shaped like a H with a line down the middle can be quite a challenge -- especially  if our first tour guides are the extremely enthusiastic and equally disorganized Wayne and Michelle!)

Last week the weather was magnificent, so while I spent a lot of evening time in the chapel and main library, I spent most of my days in the sunshine, either sitting in an Adirondack chair in the cloister walk or roaming the grounds, wandering across vast expanses of lawn and down paths and roads leading through the woods and out to huge corn and grain fields.

I was hit with what must have been a terrible allergy attack the first day, so I went out to a drugstore to load up on remedies, and for several days I slept in late and went to bed early.  During the afternoons, I tried to remember how fortunate I was to feel lousy during a week which I had cleared of all responsibilities other than prayer, and to soak up the sun.  By the end of the week my head was much clearer and I was beginning to enjoy my explorations of the house.   I did continue to get lost repeatedly -- even to the point of having to go outside once in awhile to try to figure out what side of the building I was on.  But  I seem to have emerged intact.

Maybe that gives you an idea of the daily routine?


  1. It sounds (& looks, from your gorgeous photos) like a gift. A perfect gift for you, right now. That in itself is (to me) a proof of God's gracious, generous love.

  2. I would like to try something like this some time. I tried an undirected silent retreat a long time ago--15 years?-- and really loved it (4 days...not long enough, I felt. I was just getting into the silence when I had to leave).

    Welcome back.

  3. I would LOVE to just sit in a chair right now like you got to do all week. So glad you are back intact and victorious over the sneaky allergy attack. Looking forward to hearing more about your retreat and just reconnecting. Do you have more subbing in store? If so, you may have an equally busy week coming, too.

  4. We did get you rather turned around...I don't think it helped when we told you East was West! That is truly dis-orienting?!!!

    I did ask Patient Spiritual Director later in the week if you were still lost. He said, only sometimes!

  5. Your pictures are beautiful Robin. I was moved to see/read about you having friends being at the beginning and ending of the retreat. I am glad you had that companionship. I thought of you often those eight days. Peace be with you as the new week begins...

  6. Michelle, I wondered after I posted whether you two would try to defend yourselves!

  7. disorganized? if I find a witness in my favor I'll be back.

  8. You can go to Mass even though not Catholic?

  9. Well, of course. A number of people there aren't Catholic.

  10. That didn't come out right. I meant, Sure!

    One day a UCC pastor and I were the readers. A friend of mine who was working there that week decided that they needed to call on the Protestants.