I wear my flip-flops, which, in hindsight may have been a bad idea. But who would have thought that the steady flip-flopping of my feet would sound so loud when surrounded by silence? The Sisters float past me in their Naturalizers and Dr. Scholl’s—those soft-soled sandals. They’ve startled me more than once by their silent appearances out of nothingness.
We are cultivating quiet.
This is my second year to attend this silent retreat and it couldn’t come at a more fitting time. Noise. It’s all in my head and I’ve grown convinced I can’t slow for moment but the second I slip through these doors…I feel my heart beat start to listen to the holy.
There is a note at the desk from my friend—my Spiritual Director these two days—welcoming me back, celebrating our reunion. I’ve corresponded with her a little since we met at this same place last year and I am eager to see her face again. In her greeting she tells me, wash your hands as a symbol of moving into your inner depths where God dwells with you and speaks to you directly.
So I do. I wash my hands the way I was taught to wash them at that hospital where I work—soaping generously, interlacing my fingers and rubbing them together repeatedly. I cup my right hand and twirl my fingertips into the palm of my left. And then I do the same with the other. As I wash I am thinking of this: God dwells in me…
I open to His voice.
And all day long I can’t wash my hands without smiling.
I go to Chapel for Liturgy and Father is there. He is wearing a long robe and a quilted stole that looks like something my grandmother would have sewn by hand. He tells us the story of Peter’s prison break. How the angel came and stood beside him and the chains fell off his wrists. How he followed the angel like in a dream until suddenly the angel is gone. And the scripture says that Peter came to himself. And I wonder about how frightened he must have been—James the brother of John only just being martyred a few days before.
But the liturgy is filled with unfamiliar music and responses and I am surprised at how I cling to each word for the newness of it all. And when the time comes for the Eucharist, I am actually looking forward to that communal cup. We pass the bread from person to person and each says to the other the body of Christ. I whisper the words, because this is a silent retreat after all. When the chalice comes I press my lips to that golden rim with gratitude. I remember when I first celebrated this way—how the wine was a fire that burned through my body and lit my face from inside. I pass the cup to my neighbor. The blood of Christ, I whisper.
And later I walk out under the trees, lie on my back under a tall Poplar tree and use my backpack for a pillow. It’s ninety degrees in the shade but I don’t mind. There is a gentle breeze blowing and the trees remind me to quiet my heart with their constant hush-hushing…
I read my scripture assignments and I feel chains fall from my wrists. Later we will have Centering Prayer and eat our evening meal in silence. And I don’t want to come to myself. Not yet.
With my sweet friend Jennifer:
And Emily too: