'Silence is argument carried on by other means.' (Che Guevara)
The silence of a silent retreat has always appealed to me. Spending time in solitude, alone with God and away from all distractions. What’s not to like? Breathe. Detox. Relax. This week, an unexpected opportunity emerged in my diary so I decided to give it a try – 5 days of uninterrupted…silence. I booked a room, aptly named the ‘Hideaway’, at a Christian retreat centre, deep in the North East of England countryside.
The first thing that struck me was the warmth and kindness of the Manager, Mark, and the Assistant Manager, Helen. They gave me lifts to and from a nearby train station and left a welcome card in my room. It had a hand-written note; assurance of their prayers for me throughout my stay. I used the card to create a makeshift paper cross, having forgotten my own wooden one in a rush to pack my travel bag.
Armed with inspirational books and reflective meditations, I stepped into the…silence. I especially wanted to spend time not-thinking, with a desire simply to listen to God. Yet it turned out that that time alone with myself was the hardest part. Noise in my head with so many disjointed thoughts clamouring for attention, painful anxieties in my heart and chronic aches in my body, all shattered the peace and quiet.
Rather than resting peacefully in God, I often found myself wrestling, like Jacob, with God. I felt like I wanted, and needed, to fight. Sometimes, I cried with hurt, frustration and despair. At other times, I felt lifted out of myself, filled with calmness, clarity and light. As I was leaving, the cleaner, Jo, entered my room. 'I love my job', she said, 'making guests’ rooms clean and beautiful as a special place for an encounter with God.'
An encounter with God. It can feel like C.S. Lewis’ Aslan: ‘He isn’t safe, but he is good.’
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