“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.” Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Our home is many things, but quiet is not one of them. There is usually a fair amount of activity throughout the day, accompanied by the noise and sound of everyday family life: hellos and goodbyes, questions and answers, requests and demands, some whispering, sometimes yelling (albeit mostly friendly), a lot of teasing, an argument here and there, apologies now and then, the occasional bursting out into song, and a lot of laughter and conversations. This blessed noise reminds me of so much, which we are grateful for in our family.
However, all noise and no respite make for a terribly chaotic life. I do appreciate a slice of quiet at certain times of the day. In fact, I need it and – I dare say – we all do. The absence of noise allows for an appreciation of many things that tend to be overlooked or ignored in the auditory hullaballoo of ordinary life. In my experience, this is especially true for my relationship with God.
A Time to Slow Down
Around the time we start to put away the Christmas décor, my thoughts turn to one of the best ways I have found to start the year well. I try to pin down a date for my annual retreat. Providentially, I found myself leaving for a long weekend at the beginning of February for this much-needed respite of the soul. It was a bit of a mad scramble to get meals prepared for my time away and pack my things for the retreat. I left home in a flurry of mildly wet kisses and clumsy attempts at bear hugs by the front door, my mind crowded with about thirteen different things I was sure I had forgotten. (Did I mention this was also one week before a party we were organizing for our 25th wedding anniversary, for which I was preparing the food?) I started to think I had made a mistake deciding to go on my retreat at this particularly busy time. How could I possibly abandon what needed to be done and just leave?
This was not my first retreat, though, and it certainly wasn’t the first time I was leaving with a litany of things left undone and to be completed in my wake. As I got into my car and made the long drive to the place of the retreat, I found myself starting to become calmer. Slowly. I settled into a familiar and friendly place interiorly. It was true that I had abandoned what I believed needed to be done – but I had done so to the care of Divine Providence. Somehow, I was packed and en route to spend the time to be with God. It was definitely time to slow down.
In Conversation with My Father
Because we live in a world which seems to thrive on information overload, running on the speed of a tweet and a million likes, it may be difficult for many people to imagine spending several days away from home in prayer and general silence. (“Wait…you were on a beach, right? And it just seemed like you were alone, but really you weren’t and you could still order drinks? No? Wow. Weird.”) It is precisely the atmosphere of silence which helps to foster careful introspection and the ability to deepen in our relationship with our Father God.
Silence can be scary or intimidating for some people. Those awkward pauses in conversation with others make for funny scenarios in movies or painful reminders of a lack of confidence. So we rush headlong into “conversations” which are more monologues running alongside each other – at times, in spite of each other. With the rapid proliferation of self-isolating devices, the art of real conversation is one that seems to be going the way of the dodo bird. Try talking to someone who is more used to sending text messages or being in front of a screen. The eyes don’t know where to look or where to go. It is more difficult to get a conversation going than it is to get a car started in -25°C winter weather.
In any conversation, it’s important to be able to listen well enough to understand. Many of us can talk, but listening well is a skill that is very likely not as well developed as that of speaking. To really listen, we need to be silent and to focus on the one who is speaking. Too often, we listen with the purpose of a rebuttal, whether we realize it or not. For others, it is not the desire for a rebuttal that distracts from listening well, but the internal audio-visual cacophony of noise that occupies our consciousness. It’s the mental baggage we willingly (or otherwise) bring around with us wherever we go, leaving very little room for anything or anyone else to get a word in edgewise.
On every retreat I’ve ever been on, since my first when I was in my early teens, I spend the first part of the retreat just trying to quiet the active noise in my head. In the years that I’ve been on retreat as a mom with an infant or left my husband at home with a passel of young and energetic children, I have struggled to set aside all the usual concerns which flood my mind and slip on that warm, inviting cloak of abandonment to Divine Providence I mentioned earlier. There will be a time for me to bring out those concerns, but for now, it is time to let go of my death-grip on everything I consciously seek to control. Now is my time to be in conversation with my Father God, and He’s always waiting for me.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church it says:
Great is the mystery of the faith!” The Church professes this mystery in the Apostles’ Creed (Part One) and celebrates it in the sacramental liturgy (Part Two), so that the life of the faithful may be conformed to Christ in the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father (Part Three). This mystery, then, requires that the faithful believe in it, that they celebrate it, and that they live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer. (CCC 2558)
How amazing that our personal relationship with the living and true God is in prayer! Until I read this point in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I never thought of it that way. It’s a filial relationship – I am His daughter, of course! It’s friendship because He is the ultimate Friend Who died on the cross for me. And so, He is my Saviour as well. He is the Alpha and the Omega; He is Love itself. In every relationship, good and effective communication is essential for those involved to become closer and deepen their understanding of each other. In my relationship with my God, my prayer is my conversation with Him. It is how I get to know Him better and how I am able to love Him better.
None of this is possible if I am constantly in the midst of a madding world with not a moment of quiet reflection or time to pause and reconnect with the One I profess to be the most important Being in my life. My yearly retreat is more than just being physically away from my family and home. It is my personal time to be with my Father God mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It is time to be quiet on the outside and the inside and be still for several moments. I get to look at Him in the tabernacle, actively listening for what He wants to say to me. This is time well spent, an imperfect foretaste of heaven.
Where The Heart Is…
“Whether prayer is expressed in words or gestures, it is the whole man who prays. But in naming the source of prayer, Scripture speaks sometimes of the soul or the spirit, but most often of the heart (more than a thousand times). According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain.” (CCC 2562)
To my prayer, I bring all those concerns of mine which crowd my consciousness daily. I tell God about them and I place them in the middle of the palms of His hands. Those same hands which healed the sick and dying with their touch; the same hands which were nailed to the cross and bear the marks of the nails which bore cruelly into their flesh – these are the hands I entrust my heart to. For when I pray, I bare my heart and tell my God all the things I am grateful for, the dreams I hope for, what I cry or worry about, and the things which make me afraid. Where my heart is, my prayers spring from, gushing forth out of a desire to trust in the One for Whom nothing is impossible.
At the end of my retreat, it was a relief to be able to chat with the other ladies I was with. I personally felt as if I was spiritually on fire and couldn’t wait to get back out into the world to do what needed to be done. What a joy to have had the time and opportunity to be able to spend time in quiet and be with my heavenly Father in a special way. Yet, I was raring to go back home to my family and my noisy home.
In the end, I settled back in the regular routine of everyday life and happily plunged into the business of throwing a party to celebrate our anniversary. I appreciated the moments of silence and prayer that I’d had during my retreat, and the shorter ones I have every day. To borrow the tag line of a soft drink ad from many years ago, each one is a pause that refreshes the soul. They help me realize how much I need them and how much more I want them – for myself, for my family and every single person God has placed in my life.
If you have a chance to go on a spiritual retreat, grab it. If a retreat isn’t a possibility right now, what about some quiet time with God during the day? An hour or thirty minutes – time with our Lord always benefits us in more ways than we can imagine. Make it your own personal appointment with Jesus – just you and Him. In prayerful silence, let Him know what your heart beats for. With trust in our Father God, these moments of silence will bring us closer to Him and remind us of how soundly blessed we are.