A Silent Retreat

I wear my flip-flops, which, in hindsight may have been a bad idea. But who would have thought that the steady flip-flopping of my feet would sound so loud when surrounded by silence? The Sisters float past me in their Naturalizers and Dr. Scholl’s—those soft-soled sandals. They’ve startled me more than once by their silent appearances out of nothingness.
We are cultivating quiet.
This is my second year to attend this silent retreat and it couldn’t come at a more fitting time. Noise. It’s all in my head and I’ve grown convinced I can’t slow for moment but the second I slip through these doors…I feel my heart beat start to listen to the holy.
There is a note at the desk from my friend—my Spiritual Director these two days—welcoming me back, celebrating our reunion. I’ve corresponded with her a little since we met at this same place last year and I am eager to see her face again. In her greeting she tells me, wash your hands as a symbol of moving into your inner depths where God dwells with you and speaks to you directly.
So I do. I wash my hands the way I was taught to wash them at that hospital where I work—soaping generously, interlacing my fingers and rubbing them together repeatedly. I cup my right hand and twirl my fingertips into the palm of my left. And then I do the same with the other. As I wash I am thinking of this: God dwells in me…
I open to His voice.
And all day long I can’t wash my hands without smiling.
I go to Chapel for Liturgy and Father is there. He is wearing a long robe and a quilted stole that looks like something my grandmother would have sewn by hand. He tells us the story of Peter’s prison break. How the angel came and stood beside him and the chains fell off his wrists. How he followed the angel like in a dream until suddenly the angel is gone. And the scripture says that Peter came to himself. And I wonder about how frightened he must have been—James the brother of John only just being martyred a few days before.
But the liturgy is filled with unfamiliar music and responses and I am surprised at how I cling to each word for the newness of it all. And when the time comes for the Eucharist, I am actually looking forward to that communal cup. We pass the bread from person to person and each says to the other the body of Christ. I whisper the words, because this is a silent retreat after all. When the chalice comes I press my lips to that golden rim with gratitude. I remember when I first celebrated this way—how the wine was a fire that burned through my body and lit my face from inside. I pass the cup to my neighbor. The blood of Christ, I whisper.
And later I walk out under the trees, lie on my back under a tall Poplar tree and use my backpack for a pillow. It’s ninety degrees in the shade but I don’t mind. There is a gentle breeze blowing and the trees remind me to quiet my heart with their constant hush-hushing
I read my scripture assignments  and I feel chains fall from my wrists. Later we will have Centering Prayer and eat our evening meal in silence. And I don’t want to come to myself. Not yet.
With my sweet friend Jennifer: 

And Emily too:


  1. says

    “We are cultivating quiet.”

    ALL OF US NEED THAT! So glad that HE showed up to overflow within your silence. But then, He’s good at that, isn’t he?

    Blessings, Laura. May the Lord ever touch you, in all that you see and say and think and do.

  2. says

    sigh. thank you. how i needed this entering into holy. virtually, mind you, but better than nothing, and this brought to mind the retreat i did in korea amongst monks… bless you laura. i didn’t think it was possible, but i like you even better now. xo

  3. says

    Praying for you and your special time with the Lord. I love going to silent retreats and just took a course on being a spiritual director at one. I have been a spiritual director for 6 years now but never at the retreat where you meet with the same person multiple days in a row Very special, sacred time.

    May you be open and willing to follow His spirit!

  4. says

    This beautifully evocative essay made me literally hungry for a time of extended quiet. I’ve done individual silent retreats, but never in a monastic setting – so there’s a goal for sometime soon. Hope it was a rich and filling time.

  5. says

    I used to go to a Women’s Retreat that had s time of silence on Saturday. It was my favorite time of the weekend – and I loved Women’s Retreat! Il loved taking the time to be silent before Him. It was powerful.

  6. says

    Loved reading this. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I feel like I remember last year’s retreat, which means I’ve known you over a year now:) Nice marker.

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