For the past several months, I have been building in one monthly retreat day into my calendar, on the advice of a spiritual director. I had been complaining that although I try to set aside an hour to pray in silence in the morning, I often long for the longer spaces of silence a time of retreat provides. Time in silence is nourishing and grounding. Silence gives the space to hear God speak, whether through words I hear within or through a movement of love or an answer to a question. Silence itself also speaks. St. Paul writes of the Spirit, who “intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). In silence, I can hear my own sighs for God and know that the silence of God is part of God’s also sighing for me—and for all creation.
This month, I found a retreat house that is willing to take me as a day visitor, where I can spend as long as I like in the chapel, walk on the quiet grounds, and sit a while. But other locations also work as a space for a day of retreat too: walking on a beach or in the local arboretum, and finding a small coffee shop afterwards to warm up and to reflect. In cold weather, I can set aside a welcome and inviting corner of the house as a prayer space apart from the distractions of dishes in the sink, papers to grade, e-mails to answer, etc. (It’s always the “etc.” of tasks that gets me!) Sometimes I take a single line of Scripture into a day of retreat and pray with it for the day, turning over its different dimensions, imagining the scene, or letting a phrase sink in. Other times, a beautiful bird or tree is the scripture, speaking through the way God shows God’s self in that unique event of creation. Sometimes the sweetness of silence itself beckons.
A regular work day can also hold short moments of this retreat-like structure, for example, admiring the silhouette of a bird against the open sky as a moment “apart” on a walk to the next meeting, or stealing a few moments of silence in my office just to “be” rather than to “do.”
Where do you find spaces, large or small, for retreat?