Contributors: Henri Guyader, Meg Rosenblum, Trish Rice, Ardy Woodmansee, Kathy Difede
The last week in April 2017, COSD offered a 7 day silent retreat at the Prince of Peace Abbey in Oceanside, California. We have been doing this every two years at the Abbey, under the direction of Fr. Carl Arico, and leaders trained by Contemplative Outreach. Even when I have committed myself to doing an extended retreat; I find myself musing the sensibleness of my decision. I love the prayer practice, and have been doing it twice a day for many years; still I have a busy life, how can I give up a whole week to Centering Prayer and 7 days of silence, and Grand Silence at that?! Grand Silence is practiced at the retreat as a silence of the body, speech and mind. Any form of communication with others, including eye contact, gestures, sign language, written notes etc. takes us away from our intent.
This is my fifth retreat and I still have these troubling thoughts around my decision. But, once I step out of my parked car, on to the grounds of this peaceful oasis; I find myself rooted in my consent to God’s presence and action. God’s grace takes over and the daily round of prayer, silence, and solitude begins. Sharing this prayer with 25 other people, in such a setting is a testament to God’s love at the heart of all of life. I always walk away deeply grateful for the experience and with no regrets. The world went on just fine without me; while I was forever transformed by God; tenderly, lovingly, and with great kindness into my Truer Self.
I was blessed to attend a 7 day post intensive retreat at Prince of Peace Abbey in April. This was a true gift. I was once again remined, that when I listen to the urgings of the Holy Spirit “yes” is rewarded hundred-fold! I have attended previous centering prayer retreats and have been blessed each time. However, this time of silence was even more special. What made it so? I believe it was the careful preparation of the team and their supportive presence throughout the week. We were advised not to do much reading during the week and I found that was such wise advice! For once I could just be present with my Lord! The evening liturgies were the perfect entry into my evening prayer and assured a more restful sleep. Other special memories were the Lectio Divina, Fr. Carl’s wonderful homilies, soul-friending time, meditative prayer walks and praying with my sisters and brothers in silence. I may not have read much but my heart and my journal are full.
I have attended many weekend retreats that touched on contemplative prayer over the years. I finally quit going to them since I wasn’t going to do the practice. Two years ago, I decided to attend a centering prayer workshop that ran through Lent and tried practicing it once a day. It was pretty much still a hit or miss in faithfully doing it. Then I heard about the week- long retreat and figured it was an opportunity to immerse myself in the spirit of Centering Prayer and get on track with the practice twice a day. It was a good decision on my part as it was an opportunity to distance myself from the distractions of daily living.
It was a silent retreat so no conversation about ourselves and any common interests to distract me from the focus of the retreat. I also found doing Centering Prayer in a group environment to be easier than alone at home. The week provide plenty of opportunity to practice. It was interesting to observe in myself that as the week went by each prayer sit was easier than the last. I developed a rhythm for it. I have taken that rhythm home with me and now do two prayer sits most days. I have to admit the first prayer sit upon returning home was not anywhere as easy as on the retreat. A flood of thoughts came sweeping through that evidently had been ignored during the week, but just like a dam bursting with time the flood became the normal trickle.
For me the retreat was a very positive experience and yes on the last day we got to talk at meals and for me a socializer silence was hard.
In the Silence
Silence is a divine gift.
Creative learning and freedom takes place in the silence.
Nature is more vibrant, and calls out loudly; in the silence.
Steps become slower, and thoughts more profound. Everything is richer, in the silence.
There is a noticeable, heavenly order in the silence.
Stillness is possible, releasing makes sense, comfort is given, hearts are open, thoughts are arranged, kingdom alignments take place; in the silence.
Whispers are heard, God’s life in us is known, heavenly perceptions glimpsed, in the silence.
Shutters flung open wide, doors closed; wisdom nuggets fall, fresh visions seen…in the silence.
In the silence.
I wanted to thank you all for a blessed and fruitful retreat. I also thank Father Arico and Marie. I was duly aware of the years of experience of Centering Prayer gathered at the retreat. When I piped up with 6-8 months of practice compared to 18 years, 15 years, 20 years, ten years etc. from other participants I had to chuckle to myself. Although I am not the kind of person that thinks “what have I gotten myself into.”
I knew God wanted me there and I was ready to dive in deep and listen to your wisdom and God’s. I had never been on a silent retreat in a group. I had been to Prince of Peace by myself twice for two nights each, and both times I had mostly observed silence, but this obviously was much different. I relished the silence and was very taken with the “grand silence.” The eye aversion really has you go deep into yourself and what God has for you. It is such a blessed and intimate time. A time of deep listening and grace poured in.
The rhythms of the day at the retreat were perfect. The times of prayer, videos, quiet time, food all blended together in to a rich time of fellowship with God and others. I sensed the spiritual kindness and love of all other participants in a truly remarkable way in that grand silence. When we came out of it, there was such a sense of knowing one another deeply although to me, most were strangers. All barriers were stripped away and the essence of the goodness in each person, their Imago Dei was paramount.
The other amazing surprise was the no reading quality. I must say, I read the blurb about bringing only one book and disregarded it thoroughly. (LOL). I am a voracious reader and I thought 7 days alone— I better take about 7 books. Yet, I was struck by Father Arico’s words about taking a book on a date and would you rather experience God or read about him. So, I put down all books I brought and possibly only read 40 pages or so of Open Mind Open Heart while there. A truly unique experience for me and again a way to really “dial down” into God and listening well and gleaning what He has for me in this season. I am working on my TELL and clearing the junk…I am treasuring what is good and thanking God for it.
The Intensive Retreat provides an opportunity to deepen the practice of Centering Prayer in an atmosphere of profound silence and community support. There are six 30-minute Centering Prayer periods daily. The prayer is supported with viewing of a selection of Fr. Thomas Keating’s Spiritual Journey video series.
An Intensive Retreat can be 5 days, 7 days, up to 10 days. The practice of Centering Prayer in an atmosphere of silence and community over this period of time opens one up to a deeper experience of God. Signing up to go on a retreat is already a huge YES to God’s action. With the opportunity to watch and listen to Fr. Keating’s Spiritual Journey series, there can be a great awareness and understanding of where change is needed. Spending more time in Centering Prayer, more time in silence helps to bring a deeper knowing of God’s love. There is a greater capacity to listen in-between the prayer times as well.
Yes, it may be difficult to “get away” for 5 days or more, but in that time and sacred space, God will show the way to BE in daily life. People who have been on an Intensive Retreat say it is transforming. There is recognition of what needs to be reflected on or changed. Being present with no expectations, settling into the prayer and silence brings peace, as well as surprises!
Has this post changed your thinking on extended retreats? Let us know by commenting.
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