In the middle of last year I found myself tied up in the craziness of being busy. Applying to internships, involvement in various clubs on campus, taking some of my hardest classes and all the while trying to make sure that I take the time to enjoy my junior year. At some point I realized that I needed a break from the constant going and embarked on a journey of silence. I had decided to sign up for a Silent Retreat held at Moreau Seminary, run by Campus Ministry. I knew this retreat was going to be different than others I had attended in the past. As I walked with a friend past the lakes toward Moreau, we seriously debated turning back; being silent for 48 hrs seemed like a monstrous feat that I wasn’t sure I felt up to trying.
Upon our arrival we shared a meal with other retreat participants before entering into silence. Getting to know others and forming a community has always been my favorite aspect of retreats; I’ve always enjoyed hearing other people’s stories and being able to relate to them on a personal level. However, after dinner we were not allowed to talk to one another from Friday night until Sunday afternoon and so it seemed that any fellowship would end then and there.
The retreat included three sessions of meeting with a spiritual adviser to discuss where you were in your prayer life and suggestions of where to focus your prayer. Participants are paired up with spiritual advisors upon arrival and continue with the same spiritual adviser the entire time. While extremely hesitant to discuss my prayer life with someone else, I greatly looked forward to these sessions because it meant I could talk! I was fortunate to be paired up with Sister Mary Lynch, who instantly made me feel at ease. The first session that I went into I really tried to focus on prayer and not the difficulty of being silent. I was utterly surprised when I was told that I should try not to read but just learn to be in God’s presence. Here I was thinking that I had fooled the system because I loved to read and a weekend of just reading sounded very enjoyable to me.
While talking was a huge benefit of these sessions, I also found Sister Mary’s guidance really allowed me to focus my prayer life. Being silent and focusing on myself rather than building connections within a community, allowed me to discover where in my life I found God’s presence. At one point Sister Mary asked me what came to mind when reading a certain passage in the Bible and I responded with a saying my grandma always reminds me of, “you are a beautiful daughter of God”. Sister asked me to reflect on that, to think through what it meant to be a daughter of God, to be a beautiful daughter of God. It was an exercise I was in some ways uncomfortable with in the beginning – we are constantly surrounded by this pressure to be better, to compare ourselves to photo-shopped models, to save the world. What I discovered is that sometimes we need to focus on ourselves and remember that not only are we created and loved by God but we are created in the image of the most perfect Being. We are more than good enough, we are beautiful.
The end of the retreat came with a sigh of relief of being able to talk again and excessive amounts of speaking for the rest of that Sunday. Although I struggled with the silence and not being able to interact with others, my weekend on a silent retreat taught me so much more about myself than any other retreat I had attended in the past.