Lissie Baker, Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School
About a month before this weekends’ retreat with the Society of St. John the Evangelist, we were sitting around the dinner table discussing our calendar and the agenda for the trip when Patrick let a small bomb drop:
“Lissie – you know this is a silent retreat, right?”
No, in fact, I wasn’t aware that it was a silent retreat. While everyone else in the house was either mildly thrilled or unfazed altogether by the idea of being silent for an entire weekend, cooped up in a small cabin by his or herself, I was apprehensive. The guesthouse for the Brothers of SSJE, Emery House, observes an atmosphere of functional silence (if you’re bleeding out or have a burning question, feel free to speak) as part of their life together. This practice gives visitors the opportunity to encounter Christ in a way virtually unachievable in contemporary daily life. The weekend seemed like a perfect retreat to our household – except for me. I’m on the far “E” end of the extrovert scale. When I’m taking time to relax, I prefer the company of others to give me comfort and rejuvenation. Several times a week, I’ll have dinner sitting on the floor with my plate on the coffee table just to be around our housemates. Pretty much anything I find relaxing, I find to be ten-times more relaxing in the company of friends and loved ones. But most importantly: I love talking. I love talking to people, to animals and cats and dogs, to myself, to nature, breaking out into song (especially made-up lyrics), and pretty much want to talk and connect at all hours of the day.
Question: what is a hyper-extroverted busybody supposed to do on a four-day silent retreat spent in a fair amount of solitude?
I will tell you, thankfully, that the experience was far better than I imagined. While an atmosphere of silence is not my ideal setting (four days is plenty), there was something very comforting about the quiet that blanketed our weekend. I love my housemates, and although there were plenty of moments where I was itching to share a thought or joke with them, it was calming to be with them and share quiet space. Moreover, the time we had to hear from the Brothers’ and be present to their wisdom was a comfort itself: seeing such devout, joyful people leading lives of Christly service is incredible, and the atmosphere of hospitality and love they foster was palpable, especially in the times of prayer and meals we shared with them.
Yet to my surprise, the time I spent on my own helped bring the Brothers’ insights to personal fruition. For the first time in weeks, even months, I had time to slow down – and to do so alone. I’ve been a pro at juggling a full schedule since middle school. From my job, my love of the YMCA, my daily dose of Netflix, and my relationships with friends, friends, my boyfriend, and the Church community, daily life is full to the brim. I spend so much of my day outwardly focused, and each facet of my life nourishes me spiritually, giving me a sense of belonging in the body of Christ. But for the first time in a long time, I stopped to ask myself: what about my personal, one-on-one relationship with Christ?
I move through life each day confident in my role as a member of the church and as a follower of Christ. For me, being outwardly focused is my default – self-care and self-reflection take intentionality. It’s not that I ‘put myself second’, but my spiritual growth has always been deeply rooted in community. I understand my relationship with Christ in and see His face through others, and my personal spirituality is so outwardly directed that I lack consistent spiritual self-care and self-reflection that was a part of daily life at Emery House.
I like to call the shots in my life – there is little I think I can’t handle, and asking for help is a recent addition to my tool belt. Yet this weekend revealed something lovely to me: Christ has been reaching out just a little further to take my hand, and wants to offer help. With Lent just a few days away, I think now is a perfect time to slow down and be intent in spending personal, one-on-one time with Him.