Before I get started on today’s “official” post, let me first say how sorry I am that I disappeared for a few days. I have a huge work project that needs the bulk of my attention, and I had to give myself a few days of work time devoted to nothing but that. In fact, as soon as I’m done here, I’ll be back at it, but I’ve decided to spend a few minutes with you while I wait for my tea water to reach a boil. How big of me. Anyway, on with the real post.
It has been about one and a half weeks since I returned from my silent retreat, and I wanted to share what I’ve been noticing in the wake of that experience. Obviously, a silent retreat is not “normal” in the sense that it’s not supposed to be a lesson in how to live everyday life. I’m not a hermit or a monk, so my life is not silent. I would say it is the complete opposite of silent, especially based on this morning’s chaotic scene before school. However, the silent retreat was meant to show me how important silence is, even if it’s just a few minutes interspersed in an otherwise busy day. And from that perspective, the retreat was definitely a success. I am noticing in the most unexpected places a craving for silence and a willingness and ability to try to find even just a small piece of what I experienced on retreat as I go about my day.
I find that when I am eating, especially when I am eating lunch by myself or with Chiara and am prone to work on a crossword puzzle or read a newspaper at the same time, that I suddenly become aware of how mindlessly I’m eating my food. Chiara has even become a help by asking me to light the “prayer candle” when we eat lunch. The prayer candle is actually something called a “Peace Pot” that I bought when I was on retreat. My original plan was to have one meal a week where we light the candle and do a special prayer in addition to our nightly grace, but that hasn’t happened so far. Still, the fact that Chiara — who has an ulterior motive in that she likes to blow out the candle and “make a wish” — has managed to help me keep a little piece of my prayerful silence is pretty impressive.
The silence shows up in other ways as well, like when I’m driving and would normally have the radio blasting. Now I find I drive in silence much of the time, sometimes just thinking and sometimes trying to make a God connection even as I drive. And, perhaps most noticeably, I find I am much more able to settle into the silence of yoga now that I have the experience of total retreat silence as a guide. When I go to my meditative yoga class at the YMCA, which is really very spiritual despite the fact that right outside the door is a room full of elliptical machines and weightlifters, I find the silence comes naturally. In fact, last night, as we prepared for a flow of yoga poses in honor of the Harvest Moon, which was magnificent as I drove home and it hovered behind some black rimmed clouds like something out of an El Greco painting, I felt almost as prayerful as I did on my retreat. As we finished our class with a relaxation pose and deep breathing, I was very conscious of the inhalations and exhalations, imagining that I was breathing in peace and compassion, love and understanding and breathing out anxiety and greed, jealousy and indifference. None of that would have happened, I don’t think, without my silent retreat experience to fall back on.
And for those of you who are still hung up on the line where I mentioned that we did our yoga practice in honor of the Harvest Moon, thinking that perhaps that sounds too New Age-y, let me just remind you that it was our own St. Francis of Assisi who wrote the Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon, and so I will close with a reflection on the very beautiful words written by St. Francis, who was an environmentalist before that word was even invented:
Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord, All praise is Yours, all glory, all honour and all blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong, and no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.
Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.
Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure.
Praised be You my Lord through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You my Lord through our Sister,
who sustains and governs us,
producing varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Praise be You my Lord through those who grant pardon for love of You and bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace, By You Most High, they will be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are they whom death will find doing Your most holy will, for the second death shall do them no harm.
Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks,
And serve Him with great humility.
— St. Francis of Assisi