(I wrote this reflection awhile ago before I joined the Hermitage Community. I share it to provide a glimpse into how silent retreats might be experienced.)
The road sign into The Hermitage property in Three Rivers, Michigan (USA), says, “Begin to drive slowly.” It is a safety request but it is also a sign of what is to come while I stay at the contemplative prayer retreat facility. My desire is to slow down, to stop pushing, to cease striving, to go silent. My desire is to pray, to listen, to quiet my inner noise.
Often, when I first arrive at The Hermitage, I go to the library and check out several books that I foolishly think I am going to read during my retreat. It is a frenetic reading, quickly trying to grab information to enable me to find the inner peace and quiet I need and want. Rather than simply getting quiet, I skim the books and continue to feel restless and fidgety.
After a few hours of my arrival, I begin to relax. It is like I have an inner coil that has been overly wound and the coil begins to ease the tension. I allow my shoulders to drop and become conscious of my breathing, inhaling deeper then slowly exhaling.
The silence of The Hermitage begins to seep into me as I am only distracted by the wind and the birds. At last, I grow quiet and enter into a deep silence.
Prayer undergirds life at The Hermitage—silent prayers, meal prayers, communal prayers. The mission statement for The Hermitage is, “Creating an environment of attentiveness to God” and this is my primary purpose as well. I want to be attentive to God. I want to see God in the beauty of the landscape and to see God’s loving face in the faces of the staff.
My favorite activity while on retreat is the daily morning prayers with the staff and other guests. Although we come from different locales and denominations, we join together to pray, confess, affirm, intercede, and bless. The Holy Spirit moves in us and amongst us as pray.
Near the conclusion of the morning prayer, we bless one another with these words: “____, you are the bearer of God’s infinite life.” Each person around the circle states their name and we repeat: “David, you are the bearer of God’s infinite life.”
Some people look at one another as we bless them while other people look away as if this blessing is too intimate, too wonderful to receive from strangers.
At my turn, I state my name and as everyone else says, “June, …” I say with them, “I, am the bearer of God’s infinite life.” I claim this blessing as a fact even if I am not feeling particularly holy or godly.
As I become more attentive to God, I begin to write prayers in my journal. Or, I begin to pray what is known as the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me.” Or, if I am trying to discern a decision, I might write about the decision within a spirit of prayer, asking God to reveal to me which way to go. I resist demanding a quick answer to my prayers as I demand when I am anxious and frantic. Instead, I can be with God, waiting quietly, like sitting alongside loved ones, waiting for God to speak.
In deep silence, I become more attentive to God. When I am in deep prayer, I can let God be God and me be me. When I am deep in prayer, I am my truest self with God.
The sign on the road out of The Hermitage says, “Return Slowly.” Again, it is a safety message as one can’t easily see down the road to turn on to. But it is also a message to create silence whenever possible in order to live intentionally in deep prayer, as a contemplative in the world longs to do.
June Mears Driedger