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Lessons from Brother Sun

So much happens on silent retreat, even though nothing at all seems to be happening. No talking, no reading, no writing, no casual eye contact. Doesn’t sound like much could be happening, does it? But, let me tell you, there is so much energy and movement and chatter going on under the surface, it’s hard to contain it. At one point on the first day, as I let go of everything that was going on in my head and heart, my interior was actually shaking, almost like I was shivering, but I wasn’t cold. Just a flood of feelings and emotions and questions that came rising up to the surface after being pushed down day after day by the normal events of life.

It’s really too much to put in a single blog post. I don’t have it in me to write that, and, trust me, you won’t have it in you to read it. So, instead, every day this week I’ll try to share one short reflection on my retreat with a photo or two. But before I do that today, let me just urge you to try a silent retreat. Some day. It is a powerful, powerful experience, especially if you can do it in a place of such incredible beauty, as I was blessed to do this weekend.

The photo above was my favorite “resting” spot during retreat. To get to it, I had to hike up a small hill, past the chapel, and then down a hill to a little dock that was isolated from everything else. I would sit in this chair and stare at the changing colors of the sky, the swirling clouds moving so close overhead they felt like they were within reach, the shimmering water that reflected the light so dramatically that sometimes Pyramid lake shimmerit looked like it was raining when it wasn’t and sometimes it looked like a swarm of small birds was hovering just over the surface when they weren’t. But more than anything else, what was I found here was such incredible peace, for hours at a time, so peaceful sometimes I found it difficult to leave when I knew I had to head to the dining hall for a meal.

One of the things that really struck me on this weekend experience of nature at its finest was how different it was from my recent vacation to the equally beautiful Jersey Shore. There I woke every morning and ran down to the beach to watch the sunrise, and I took photo after photo of the most spectacular scenes. Every day was different, everyday left me in awe and sometimes in tears. And I wanted to share it and post it and record it.

But here the sunrise was so subtle that you’d easily miss it if you weren’t paying very close attention. Unlike at the ocean, the sun itself was hidden from view, so there was no Aha! moment. It was more of a slow burn. Like I didn’t realize it was coming, almost thought maybe it was too cloudy for a visible sunrise, and then suddenly I’d notice the clouds getting a pinkish hue to them. Slowly, slowly the pink deepened and spread and it was obvious that behind that mountain a sunrise was occurring, but all I could see was the reflection of it. And for the briefest moment I thought, “I wish I’d brought my camera,” and then I remembered what this weekend was all about. I wasn’t there to capture the sunrise. I was there to let the sunrise capture me.

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