The “Rookie Mistake” on Silent Retreats

A contributor to shares this story about a recent silent retreat:

A retreat center director once told me that everybody making their first silent directed retreat makes the same mistake.

“They all show up with a suitcase full of books, and at the end of the retreat they haven’t touched a single one of them.”

A few weeks ago I had a chance to make my first silent retreat. It was a relatively short weekend retreat, just Friday evening through Sunday afternoon.

As I looked ahead to the retreat I had a hard time envisioning what I would be doing for 40 hours of silence, so I figured I would have to fill some of the time with reading.

Not wanting to look like a rookie walking in with a full suitcase of books….I only brought four books.

And I didn’t touch a single one of them.

Here’s the thing, though. Most silent retreats have a lot more structure than you would think. In the daily routine we had morning and evening prayer as a group, Mass, a holy hour at Eucharistic adoration, and three meals.

In between these, the retreat director would gather the retreatants, offer us a short reflection, and then give us a short list of Bible verses with a quick description of each. He told us to pick one and pray and reflect on it with our prayer journals for the two to three hour block before our next time of group prayer.

Even breaking silent prayer sessions down into two or three hours seemed like a long time to sit quietly. But one of the other retreatants, sharing his experience as the retreat came to an end, captured it perfectly:

“You all told me this would be a silent retreat, but you lied….God just wouldn’t stop talking!”

All this to say, if you are considering making a silent retreat, do it! And don’t worry that the silence will be too difficult. You will be too busy listening to God to remember how long it has been since you talked to anybody else, and too busy listening to God and enjoying His presence to want to interrupt that with the distraction of a book.

If your silent retreat is “directed” or based on the Spiritual Exercises, don’t worry about bringing materials to fill your time. You won’t need them or want them once you dive into the retreat.

A silent retreat, even a short weekend version, is a life changing experience (in a good way!). Give it a shot!

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  • Pooka

    I hope I can get to a silent retreat sometime soon (i.e. within the next few years). The description presented here “sounds” wonderful.