Why Silence?

Why would anyone ever consider going on a silent retreat?

Whilst many find silence peaceful, restful, and a place to consolidate scattered thoughts and emotions, others find it uncomfortable, distracting, and maybe even painful. For some, retreats are part of their church tradition. For others, they are most definitely not. 

In the midst of the busyness of life, why would anyone consider taking a silent retreat?

As we at Foxhill are running several events which are mainly silent (for info click here), we posed that question to, amongst others, Jon Pocock, Strategic Programme Director in the Diocese, and Gill Morgan a trustee of the Quiet Garden Movement and leader of quiet days both in her own garden and at Foxhill.

 

Jon: ‘I personally have found that a silent retreat gives you the opportunity to stop trying, performing, and making things happen. It provides the space in which God can bless, restore and release something new.

The silence enables you to come face to face with the things that activity allows you to avoid.  Entering silence is a helpful jolt to the system that frees up fresh ways of being, seeing and hearing.’

Gill: ‘In the words of Maggie Ross in her book Silence: a User’s Guide, “Silence is not the absence of noise, it is the vast interior landscape that invites us to stillness”. Stillness, in my experience, helps to settle down those chattering thoughts which hold back the stillness; in the words of David Tomlins, “The most deafening voice is our own. Desires, fears, anxieties and obsessive worries, a treadmill of thoughts, issuing from a constantly chattering mind.” In my own experience, within the context of a silent retreat these things begin to fall away.’

What do you find most valuable?


Gill: ‘The most valuable thing about silence, to me, is not to have the responsibility, or the need, to talk to others! As someone who is inclined to talk too much there is an absolute freedom about remaining silent.’

Jon: ‘The time to slow down, and allow my mind to stop having to think about everything.
The silent retreats I've enjoyed have been those which give you one thing to mull over for a period - it gives you a focus.  It removes the distractions or new thoughts and ideas that come from conversation with others.’

 

What should I expect on a silent retreat?


Jon: ‘Some worship and a formal point at which you enter into silence.
Some helpful input (at defined points) from the retreat leader that will give you something upon which to ponder or meditate.
Space and time to do that pondering (or to rebel and do your own thing!).
A point at which the silence formally comes to an end, and a gentle re-entry back into life.

On my first ever silent day, I took myself off for a walk with my camera - it felt so luxurious to simply be out in nature doing something I loved, without the pressure to serve others, make conversation, learn something new, or be challenged theologically. I just had a really nice day on my own with God, and finished the day feeling relaxed, peaceful, and rested.
Nothing profound happened, but God met me quite profoundly.’

 

How should I prepare?


Gill: ‘Before my first ever retreat I tried to spend some time in prayer but as I had four young children at the time this was virtually impossible! If you are attending your first ever silent retreat, I would say prepare by having an open mind, bringing a bible and a notebook / journal, and anything you may find helpful such as paints, stitching etc. Try to avoid a pile of books to plough through; the essence of a silent retreat is to be prepared to listen to God, not throw an agenda at him.’

Jon: ‘Rest well if you can, but if the only thing you want to do once you arrive is to rest - then don’t feel guilty about doing that. Sometimes the benefit of a retreat is to simply stop and rest. 

Come with expectation that God is going to speak.

Come with expectation that if God does speak it will be with loving-kindness - because you are His beloved child, He wants the best for you, and He’s delighted that you are setting this time aside to seek His face.’

 

What makes a silent retreat different to any other retreat?


Jon: ‘A silent retreat means you can’t interact with others - so you have a perfect excuse to simply focus on the things that you need to work through and process.  It takes away the need to be self-less and other-focused - and gives you permission to be you-focused in a Godly way.

It’s likely to feel more uncomfortable to start with - but that’s exactly why it is likely to be a place of deep encounter.  God meets us in the discomfort.  The hard place is always where He is able to do the most transformation.’

Gill: ‘My retreats are ‘less is more’; I have fairly short sessions with lots of ‘space’ between, I generally offer questions to prompt responses if that would help (but nothing is compulsary!!); I also offer suggested art type activities, with encouragement to ‘have a go’ but no ability or experience necessary.’

 

Why should I consider an Individually Guided Retreat?


Gill: ‘An IGR is valuable because being accompanied by a prayer guide means that the individual participants are gently guided along their own individual ‘journey’ with an opportunity to try and see what/where God may be guiding them.’

Jon: ‘An IGR should give you some opportunity to process things verbally, as there will be a daily session in which you’ll have chance to reflect with your guide.’ 

 

How would you help me if I said…

•   I’m an external processor and I struggle to reflect in my own head.


Jon: ‘Cheat - simply take yourself away from others on a walk and talk to God out loud.  No one will know! Write down some questions on bits of card: What do you think about that? What do you feel about that? Why do you think that? Why do you feel that? What do you think God thinks or feels about that? What might God be saying through those thoughts or feelings? What could you do differently? How could you trust God in this situation? Pull them out at random on your walk and use them as to start your next conversation out loud with the trees.’



•   Several days without speaking feels really daunting.


Jon: ‘Turn it into a wilful act of defiance against the world’s culture of noise, constant connectedness, and endless inane babble.

Being an activist by nature, I find it helpful to do something creative or re-creational during the silence – I like to read; write - thoughts, ideas, poems, a song; draw - sketches, artistic response to an idea or piece of scripture; and walking.’

 

•   Silent retreats aren’t in my tradition.


Jon: ‘That’s exactly why you should try it.
Think of the aspects of your tradition that you wish others would value more highly, and that you know would benefit them. And then realise that that’s exact what people who have discovered silent retreats want for you too. We all have something to learn from others. God has so much more opportunity to re-create us when we step out of the routines that we constrain ourselves with.’


Over the year at Foxhill, we have several retreats and retreat days which are either entirely or largely silent. We have two Individually Guided Retreats - the first in May and the second in November. If you find the idea of several days of silence daunting, in December Gill will be leading one of our Encounter Days on God’s gift of his presence. 
Bursaries are available for those who would find attending impossible due to cost.
 

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