Monday 22 July 2013

Five Simple Tips for a Silent Retreat

By Eric Hanna, S.J.

This is the sort of advice someone might give you – so pay attention.

A prayerful retreat in silence is a powerful experience. A whole day spent away from communication creates a peaceful quiet in which the retreatant can express her or his most subtle and unformed feelings to God and also be open to receiving God's loving replies. Remaining silent, whether for a day, a weekend, or even longer can be difficult for some. So try to follow these five helpful tips so that you can take maximum advantage of your time of retreat.

1) Hold on to worries and anxieties!
You're going to be away from work and family for over 24 hours. Unless you keep planning in your mind how you're going to deal with them, your out-of-retreat life is going to collapse! Try and hang on to as many loose threads concerning deadlines and schedules as possible, so you don't forget them after the retreat. Don't tie off these concerns before the retreat begins by completing things early or scheduling them for other times. The world needs to remember that it can't do without you for even a few hours. Remind the world of this by brooding on your obligations whenever you can.

2) Make sure to socialize!
They may enforce silence at meals and during presentations. But that doesn't mean you can't greet people in the hallway, ask how their retreat is going, and generally chat up passers-by. When you spend time with people but don't say anything, you risk becoming comfortable with silence, such that you won't necessarily need to talk to create a human connection. That would be disastrous because you'll start to feel oddly at peace even when there is nothing to say. People need to know you have opinions, even if it's only about the weather. Any kind of attention-drawing behaviour will help others take a break from their prayer and focus on you. Avoid letting yourself fall into deep contemplation, you'll end up just letting other people drift around you.

3) For goodness sake, bring a cell phone!
Retreat centres are isolated. Your friends might think you've died or been incapacitated if you don't instantly reply to their calls and texts. Especially if you don't let people know you're on retreat. And if you do bring a cell phone, don't just leave it turned off in your room for the whole retreat: check it! Do not wait until the retreat is over to see Susie's hilarious photo of a cat playing the keyboard or learn from Pete's status that he only gives the movie he saw two stars. The prayerful revelation of your deeper feelings can certainly wait until after you attend to these important priorities.

4) If possible, bring some work to do!
Whether it be with a laptop or paper, some reading you have to do or something you must write, bring some work. Imagine spending a whole hour just looking at the sunrise. Or spending the afternoon in a garden, smelling the flowers and watching the vibrant palette of the sun paint brilliant colours on the leaves. These experiences are unproductive and pretty boring. Make sure you bring something that's really valuable, something someone would pay you to do.

5) Do not bring a bible, spiritual reading, or supplies for artwork!
We all know everything that's in the bible, so don't bother bringing a copy to peruse and contemplate. Also, do not bring spiritual reading, such as writings of the saints or books on prayer and spirituality. God demands that you zone out and wait for direct inspiration: do not seek it from His Word or His Church. Also, try to avoid relaxing, creative activities like painting or sculpting. These can become kinds of prayer, expressions of what you are offering or receiving. Real prayer shouldn't involve your body at all, it should be a strict mental evaluation of yourself. If possible, avoid moving around or getting exercise. You're here to pray. And praying is only valid if you sit and do it in your head.

These tips will help you prepare for the basics of a spiritual retreat. Make sure to focus on the details of organizing your particular spiritual experience. God is extremely aloof and will not lift a finger to help you pray, even if you ask Him. In no way is He eagerly awaiting the chance to take up anything at all that you offer and make it into the dialogue of a love relationship. He is a most exacting master. A retreat is a time to discover this and grow in our insecurities about how hard it is to be close to God.

With this advice in mind, I wish you a very productive and socially connected retreat.

Yours affectionately,
—Screwtape Undersecretary, Dept. of Infernal Affairs

No comments:

Post a Comment