The value of silence

Last weekend we facilitated our 13th yearly silent retreat. Yes…silent. We talk through the process on Friday night and then go into silence with a worship and stay in silence until after a personal celebration of the Lord’s Supper on Sunday morning.

In the pre-retreat information we send out, we tell folks that they will be surprised at how difficult it is to come out of silence. Many don’t believe us–until they experience it, and then they agree that it is truly difficult to do.

Even though we don’t speak during that time, there is a lot of interaction that goes on. Nonverbal communication can say a lot–sometimes far more than when we use words.

So what do we do?

We share in worship together. We have opportunity to enjoy the beauty of nature. We can just sit and “be”… We take time to listen to God. We pray for–and with–each other. We read (whatever we want). It’s not just a time of sitting and twiddling your thumbs.

Our biggest challenge isn’t in getting people to come back to the retreats. It’s in getting them there in the first place.

I think the thought of silence panics many of us. We’re so used to being busy…running from this place to that…worrying about all the things that we think we have to get done…stewing about various family issues… What on earth are we going to do when all of that isn’t part of our day?

But maybe that’s part of our contemporary problem. We’re afraid to be by ourselves…afraid to listen for (and talk with) God–maybe afraid there’s no one there? or afraid we might get scolded? And so we drown out what we’re afraid of by the noise we make for ourselves. And for some of us, silence has been used in an abusive way.

But God–or whatever name you call the One who created us–loves us, even more than we love our children. We embrace them, even when we may not be happy with what they’ve done. We want to hold them…wrap them in love…encourage them. Why do we think our Creator would do any different?

Silence gives us a chance to see with new eyes…to hear with new ears.

There’s a statement in Psalm 46:10 that is really the foundation for these retreats (the first line is the specific statement; the rest provides more of the foundation):

Be still and know I am God.
Be still and know I am…
Be still and know…
Be still…