Returning from the silence

I’ve been trying to find the words to describe my retreat last week.  When people ask how it went, I’ve been answering, “wonderful,” but that doesn’t really tell much, does it?  The experience of being in silence for almost six days, sitting in three hours a day of centering prayer sessions with a group, having meals in silence, walking slowly, sitting by the lake, lettings thoughts settle – all of that was just what my soul needed.

Sunrise at Sacred Heart, Cullman, AL

 

I’ve been to this retreat center for two previous eight-day centering prayer retreats.  I find it a deeply healing place, one with transformative energies, one that invites me to rest with my soul, to let it be purified.  Sometimes that purification is like a crucible heated by a white-hot fire to burn off some of my flaws.  This time it was different, a gentler process, like a cheesecloth straining the whey to make cheese.   The cancer treatments I’ve recently gone through were the crucible experience.  This retreat was more gentle and slow, the beginning of a cheese-making time in my life.

Morning lake at Sacred Heart, Cullman, AL

I sat by this lake and let my thoughts settle, let life seep into my bones, let gratitude wash through me.  I sat in centering prayer sessions and let the energy gently rock me (literally – sometimes when I meditate, I rock a little.  Actually, often I do).  I sat with others in silence, God’s first language.  And I let it be.  We all just let it be.

It’s hard to explain what an eight-day centering prayer retreat is like.  Until I had the experience for myself, I couldn’t understand how you can feel close to people if you never had a conversation with them.  How can sitting for hours in silence with people, eating meals in silence with them, sharing a dorm and a campus with them – but not talking – how can that create a feeling of closeness?  I feel I know people from my silent retreats on a deeper level than those in which conversation is a centerpiece.   I feel I know their essence.  And they know mine.  We all offer ourselves in the silence, just as we are.  And we all accept each other in the silence, just as we are.

Rosy sunrise on the lake at Sacred Heart, Cullman, AL

We each had our own ways of being with ourselves and God when we weren’t in centering sessions.  I made a point to be outside at liminal times, the times of sunrise and sometimes sunset.  To see the sky brighten, turn rose and yellow and sometimes almost white and become the light blue then deeper blue of day.  Then in the evening turn even deeper blue into indigo and slowly, slowly work its way toward black.  The benches on the lake don’t face due east, but southeasterly, so the colors aren’t those of the direct sunrise and sunset.  Which suited me just fine.  I’m not a due east or due west personality, but more a blending of directions, so the sky felt familiar in its combination of hues – none extremely vivid, but all beautiful.

So how did my retreat go?  Beautifully.  Deeply.  Sacredly.  Full of healing and gratitude.

I’ll continue to ruminate on the experience and will have more posts that explore the various aspects of my silent centering prayer retreat.  This first post-retreat post is an overview.  Just to let you know that the retreat was wonderful.  And more.  So much more.

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