When I told people I know that I was going with one of my dear friends on a 5-day silent spiritual retreat, most of them thought I was crazy. “You won’t be able to talk for five days?” they’d cry. “I couldn’t do it.” And I didn’t even tell them that there would be no televisions, no radios, no Internet (although I did have my iPhone with me). That’s because the whole idea of a retreat is to remove yourself from the distractions of our modern world and focus completely on prayer and contemplation because “God is in the silence.”
I was interested in participating to find out if leaving behind the hustle and bustle of everyday life and putting myself in a place of quiet and stillness would help me strengthen my relationship with God and hear more clearly whatever He wants to tell me. Jesus regularly went off by himself to pray, and he recognized the importance of this practice for his apostles, too. When the Twelve have just returned from going out to teach, preach repentance, drive out demons, and cure the sick, Jesus said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” So they went “in the boat by themselves to a deserted place” (Mark 6: 12-13, 31-32). Unfortunately, their plans were interrupted by throngs of people who found out where they were going and followed them, but Jesus’ intention was for them to have a rejuvenating retreat.
So, my good friend and I drove from North Carolina to Florida, to the lovely 15-acre retreat center of the Marian Servants of Divine Providence™ on Tampa Bay. We joined nine others (including us, there were a total of 9 women and 2 men, one of whom was a priest) who had assembled to participate in “an intense structured experience based upon the teachings of St. Ignatius.” We attended Mass every morning, met one-on-one with our assigned Spiritual Director for an hour a day, and spent the rest of our days and evenings in reading, meditating, and praying on scriptures “relating to varied themes such as God’s love, mercy, and our calling to serve.” My fellow retreatants and I spent this time strolling through beautiful tropical gardens; sitting beside ponds and fountains; watching the wildlife (including pelicans, herons, seagulls, one hawk, squirrels, many lizards, and one turtle); and immersing ourselves in the profoundly reverent space of the House of Prayer’s Adoration Chapel.
All over the grounds and in the retreat center’s buildings were signs reminding us to remain silent, and everyone did. Although we gathered every day for lunch as a group, we ate in silence. When we encountered one another in our house or on the grounds, we simply smiled at one another and continued on our way. It was strange at first, but I got used to it, and it certainly did promote introspection. The only time the silence was difficult for me was in the evenings; I missed my nightly conversations with my husband and my son about the details of our day.
I’ve never had a Spiritual Director before, so that was an interesting new experience. Every day, she and I would talk about what had come up for me during my prayers on the scriptures. When appropriate, she would offer me suggestions, guidance, or additional resources. She gave me some new ways to think about things, and I took notes during our conversations.
I would highly recommend a retreat to anyone who is serious about his or her spiritual development. According to my Spiritual Director, a person on retreat learns whatever it is he or she needs to know at that point in his or her life, and I believe that’s true. From my experience came two main takeaways. One is the knowledge that I can indeed achieve a meditative state that produces valuable insights. For example, while praying before the Blessed Sacrament for the grace of trust in the Lord’s divine providence, I had the most wonderful vision of the Holy Spirit wrapping His great wings around me and embracing me in a place of profound comfort, peace, and safety. I can now evoke those feelings just by remembering the encounter.
My second takeaway is to continue nurturing my relationship with God by finding the time for prayer every day. This retreat introduced me to the Ignatian method of praying on scriptures, and I will continue practicing this method. I plan to add a bench to a quiet corner of my back yard, making a space for a “mini-retreat” right here at home.
For more on the benefits of a spiritual retreat and some advice for getting the most out of a retreat, see Fr. Francis Hoffman’s advice here.