My husband’s new alarm clock woke me at 6 a.m. It woke me again at 6:15. Neither of us could tell the difference between the snooze button and the off switch. At 6:30, the shrieking of a child who’d just discovered his brothers had eaten the last of the Lucky Charms drowned out the shrill bleating of my own alarm clock.
On the way to school my youngest son cranked up the volume on his Game Boy. My cell phone began to trill “I’m All Right,” but I didn’t feel all right.
Fortunately, I was on my way to a silent retreat at Immaculate Heart Retreat Center. For $70 I would get three meals, a room for the night and all the quiet I wanted.
The idea of 24 hours of silence had intrigued me since a friend told me about her experience. I called Immaculate Heart, located at the foot of Tower Mountain in south Spokane County, and scheduled my retreat.
Opened in 1959, the retreat center is set on 53 wooded acres overlooking the Moran Prairie. Development manager Aileen Fields gave me a tour of the property. As we bundled up and crunched through the snow, she said the center serves around 6,500 people each year. Many folks come with church, school or corporate retreats, but Fields said they often welcome individuals like me, searching for some silence.
Though grounded in the Catholic tradition, Immaculate Heart is open to anyone. “Basically, people come here to get off the treadmill of everyday life,” said Fields. “The quietness comes from what we’re about and what we have to offer.”
After a delicious lunch, Fields showed me to my room. Its white cinderblock walls and twin beds reminded me of a college dorm. However, instead of pop-star posters, the only adornment on the wall was a small crucifix.
I turned off my cell phone and took off my watch. I wrapped myself in a brightly colored quilt and lay down to listen to the silence.
2007 had been a tumultuous year for me. The pace of life had increased dramatically. At the end of the day I often felt like I’d been sprinting toward a finish line that always seemed to be just out of reach.
My kids are growing up so fast. I felt myself floundering, unsure of who I was supposed to be. I no longer fit with the stay-home mom crowd, but often felt equally out of place in the professional world. Sometimes I’d catch my reflection in a mirror and think, who is that? Oprah would be disappointed to know I haven’t been living my best life.
It didn’t take long for thoughts of deadlines, appointments and e-mails to crowd into the quiet. Did I return all my calls? Will Derek remember to pick up the kids? My heart rate quickened. My shoulders tensed.
I tried deep-breathing techniques, but the worries and disappointments of the past year tap-danced through my thoughts. Then I remembered a tiny white chapel Fields had shown me. I dressed warmly for the bitter cold, gathered the quilt and trekked across a frozen field of snow.
The chapel was just big enough for a kneeler and couple of chairs. I turned on the heat and sat in the stillness. One of the biggest mistakes I made last year was keeping myself so busy and so distracted that I never had time to sort through my thoughts. I’d simply acted and reacted. But here in this private sanctuary, instead of burying my disillusionment in another round of busyness, I looked at it. I examined each sorrow I’d been too afraid to acknowledge, and by owning it I began to understand it, and by understanding it, I began to let it go.
As I left the chapel I kept my eyes on the icy path in front of me. When I finally glanced up, I was startled to see a brilliant pink winter sunset glowing across the horizon. Right in front of me five white-tailed deer watched my progress from the shadow of a towering pine. I stopped, awed by their proximity. We watched each other, wary and curious.
In a flash they took off, bounding across the snow. I looked around me and wondered at what else I might have missed because my eyes had been so firmly glued to the path in front of me.
This, then, is the value of silence. If we are quiet we can see things we might have missed before and hear things our souls are desperate to acknowledge. Most of us long to believe in something bigger than ourselves, but the incessant demands of modern life squelch out the sacred.
What I hoped to remember as I re-entered the clamor of daily life was something Mother Teresa once said. “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence.”
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