I have just returned from a 24-hour retreat at St. Francis Springs Prayer Center. I had decided to attend this retreat back in June when I received an invitation from my spiritual director. If that terms seems mysterious to you, it's just someone who helps me identify God's activity in my life - someone who serves as a pastor to me. She had invited 14 of us, I think. And, what a beautiful mix of souls! Of course, we were reminded about confidentiality - no spilling the beans about conversations in the sessions...and then to make it even a safer environment, no talking to each other about conversations in the sessions if we happened to bump into each other in "real life." That was all very comfortable for me.
We prayed silently together quite a bit. I'm not sure why we don't do this in church more often, as it can be very powerful to be silent with other people before God. There's just something about that practice that right-sizes us and binds us together...or at least, that's what happened in the last 24 hours! We reflected on scripture. We wrote a little. We talked. We ate wonderful meals. We laughed.
The interesting thing was this sign that hung on the doors heading into the guest room hallway. "Please observe silence in the residential hall." NO TALKING??! And, not only was there no talking from us, there was no talking from the television because there were no televisions. And, no talking from the phone because you had to go outside and climb a hill to have phone service. Instead of TVs, we had large writing desks in our rooms with a nice bright light and a little coaster for our coffee or water. We had comfortable chairs that sat in front of large windows displaying the beautiful grounds. We had nice comfortable beds, and when I turned my lights out earlier than usual, it was already a silent and holy night.
I've been thinking about how healthy silence is and how hard it is to practice. Even when we are not speaking, we are typing, texting, facebooking...and it's not that I think technology is evil. I don't. I use it. I'm using it right now! But, when it becomes filler - background noise - and we cannot be comfortable without it, we have a problem. When it becomes our preferred mode of communication, we have a problem. When we believe that the glow of the computer screen is an open invitation to free speech from us, we have a problem. What I mean is that words get us in trouble. In Psalm 141, the Psalmist prayed Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. The Psalmist understood that rarely does the unspoken word get people into trouble. The Psalmist understood the quote that "My most prized possessions are the words I haven't spoken."
The past 24 hours was a good reminder to me of how restful life can be with fewer words and more prayers. It was a good reminder to me of how little I actually need to speak. And, it was a good reminder that silence is a friend. I hope that in the coming days I can claim some spaces in my own life where I ask myself to "Please Observe Silence." It's not a bad thing.