When I stayed at Monastery of Christ in the Desert recently, the word “silence” took on a new meaning. It was cold. There was quiet. People ate in silence. My room was silent. The cold was extra-silent. After evening vespers, and the Nature walk back to my room, with a dark night sky, and darkness everywhere, really, I felt a depth of silence from deep within me that I’d never felt before. It was a silence that went beyond my physical to a place that wasn’t exactly cheery. I felt that in this depth were things I was afraid to know about myself. The monastery is all about silence and for a reason. Though our modern world has too much isolation, I hadn’t previously entered this depth of being and need to explore silence more. My feeling is that dark, cold, and silence are a powerful combination for exploration.
My moment of feeling this depth of silence was brief. I believe it scared me, so I, in return, scared it off. Perhaps if I am lucky enough to reach this state again in the future I can be prepared and welcome it, instead.
The Monastery of Christ in the Desert offers tips for a self-guided retreat that I thought might be useful, so I’m excerpting two portions of them below:
…close your eyes, calm yourself and imagine that God is sitting next to you, welcoming you into His presence and inviting you to share all the things you find troubling in your life, be it stresses at work, difficulties in relationships, finances, or for whatever you need God’s help to confront and resolve. Let it all be “told to God” as you would with the most trusted friend in the world. You will not find anyone more receptive and compassionate than God!
You can repeat this process as often as you feel that it is helpful. But you can also tell God that you are open for Him to enter more fully into your life and see where that leads you. For the retreat to be of great help to you, trust with all your heart that God is with you, sustaining you, guiding you in His love.
Such occasions of quiet prayer will guide your retreat. At times you may feel that nothing is happening but it is. This is the great mystery of prayer when you are centered on God by your intention, your listening, and your desire to be open and receptive to where God wants to lead you. Simply taking the time to be still and turning fully to God’s compassionate and forgiving love will heal your wounded heart, nourish your soul, and direct you to where you ought to be and what you ought to do.
Next, the practice of Lectio Divine:
Lectio Divina that literally means “divine reading.” A more accurate understanding of this practice, however, is listening to “the word that comes from the mouth of God.” It is a flexible rhythm of prayer, a loving communion with God through a text that a person hears or reads. At Christ in the Desert, every monk is expected to participate in this exercise every day, even if it is only for a short time; and so guests are encouraged to do so as well as part of their self-directed and God-directed retreat.
This practice begins with seeking out a quiet place where one is free from all distractions, taking a few moments to be still, calming the restlessness that comes from worries and the day’s activities, and finally, raising the heart and mind to God in prayer. This prayer is not so much one of praying that God becomes present because God is present to all people at all times, but rather it is a prayer seeking the grace to become fully present to God.
Once centered in God, a reading from sacred scripture is chosen, perhaps from that day’s liturgy, or even by a random selection from one of the Gospels, or perhaps some other reading of a spiritual nature. The reading is approached more from the heart than the head and is generally limited to a page, a paragraph, or even a single sentence.
What follows is meditatio, or inner listening. It has also been described as “chewing” on the text and letting the savor of its meaning and implications sink into the soul and heart of the one meditating. It is a time for beingrather than so much a time for analytical reflection. The reader simply invites God’s word to manifest itself in her or his own heart at that given moment in their life.
Often this manifestation of the sacred in your heart will lead you to make special petitions (oratio) to God for others and their needs, as well as for yourself. Articulate those to God in silence, knowing that these humble requests are heard and will be answered in love.
Next, while remaining centered in God, the reader is often drawn into a deeper union with God, a state of contemplatio or contemplation, a state without thought or word, a state of being united with God’s presence within.
Retreats are useful for spending time in sacred spaces and for getting into new environs which let us break our normal habits and limits. We escape from our ruts. These new situations allow us to find inspiration or else unearth that hidden deep within ourselves.