At the time, for many, it seemed like an extraordinary and perhaps strange thing for a young woman to do. When sharing my plans, there were comments such as, ‘Why are you doing a silent retreat? You’re not a priest or religious!’ and ‘I couldn’t imagine one day of silence, let alone 30 days!’
And yet, that is exactly what my soul and heart were craving. After a tumultuous couple of years at my workplace, and many changes taking place in my personal life, I sensed very strongly that God was calling me away to rest, and spend time with him, in the silence.
Though there were (and still are) numerous places in Australia, including my home town of Melbourne, that offer silent retreats in a variety of modes based on the Spiritual Exercises, my call was to travel afar − to physically remove myself from the familiar.
I entered the 30-day silent retreat with little expectation, other than wanting to rest in the Lord, and to grow deeper in my relationship with him. I borrowed the words written by author-priest Henri Nouwen* for the motto of my retreat: “I have to kneel before the Father, put my ear against his chest and listen, without interruption, to the heartbeat of God. Then, and only then, can I say carefully and very gently what I hear.”
To explain briefly, the Spiritual Exercises are a compilation of meditations, prayers and contemplative practices developed by St Ignatius Loyola to help people deepen their relationship with God. There are four main movements over the 30 days, each spanning roughly a week.
The first week of the Exercises provides an opportunity for reflection on my life in light of God’s boundless love for me, and the ways in which my response to this love has been hindered by various patterns of sin. It is a time to be reminded of the foundational principle that I am a beloved child of God. My heart is full of gratitude.
The second week is an invitation to grow deeper in my knowledge and understanding of Jesus Christ. I read and reflect on the Scripture passages of Christ’s birth and baptism, his sermon on the mount and his ministry of teaching and healing. The more I learn about him, the more I know and love him. I grow to love Jesus more intimately.
In the third week, I meditate on Christ’s Last Supper, his passion and death, coming to a deeper understanding that the gift of eucharist was (and is) the ultimate expression of God’s love. And in the final week, I meditate on Jesus’ resurrection. I am invited to throw out into the deep and to follow him, and in so doing, resolve to walk with the risen Christ.
I am sent out to love and serve Christ in concrete ways in my life − How will I be a channel of Christ’s love, peace and mercy in the world, concretely? How will I be Christ’s hands and feet in the world, concretely?
One might still ask, however, why take part in a silent retreat for 30 days, or perhaps even a week, or a day?
The answer is because God speaks to us in the silence − it is there that he speaks to our hearts. Of course God can also speak to us through the people we meet and through Scripture, but it is within our heart, the holy of holies, that God longs to speak to us. It is here that God dwells.
The question perhaps is − are you listening?
My prayer for everyone is that we can regularly take time for silence in our day to hear the voice of God, and to respond to his words with concrete actions of love.
Fiona Basile is a freelance photojournalist based in Melbourne. While on the 30-day silent retreat, she wrote the words to her recently published children’s book Shhh … God is in the silence. For more information click here. see www.godisinthesilence.com
* Nouwen, Henri, The Return of the Prodigal Son, page 17.