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2015 Lenten Retreat

alec vanderboom

I went on a Silent Carmel Retreat last weekend at a Benedictine Monastery. It was glorious! It was so hard for me to leave the baby. (I've got a colicky 4 month old who nurses almost every 20 minutes on rough days). I almost backed out a few times before going on the retreat, but I'm so happy that I went.

I had this major breakthrough with the gift of Silence. St. Elizabeth of the Trinity talks about this "humming" that she hears in the middle of Silence in a monastery. The Silence is actually "full" of activity, joy and love. I read that description at a Carmelite retreat four years ago and thought "What she is talking about?" The three times I did a Silent retreat before the Silence felt like "work." I had to work to remember not to talk. Always before the Silence felt a little lonely and barren. I thought that Silence was like a "Fast" from talking.

This time the Silence felt amazing. The Silence felt so full of beauty and possibility. I knew what work I was supposed to do in the monastery, and I did it. I felt really close to God. There were questions deep in my subconscious that I didn't even know were bothering me. So many little rough patches in my life got fixed during the retreat.

It's hard to describe how close I felt to my fellow Carmelites in my community. Loving them in silence made every interaction so free and easy. For example, there was an elderly man named Bill who read a spiritual book in an empty dining room at 6:30 AM on Saturday morning. I'd been alone in my cell (an individual bedroom) for the past 12 hours. Bill is a quiet guy who I don't know well from a year of shared Carmel meetings. Yet when I saw him reading in the dining room after all that beautiful, exciting time of solitude I thought "There's Bill!"

When I went to the dining room, I signed up to set the tables for breakfast. There were 66 people there at the retreat. So as I was doing the soothing, repeated task of laying out 66 place settings, I felt this connection to my Carmelite brother Bill. I thought "There's Bill! He's talking to God! I'm setting the table for God!" All of this connection and wordless support flowed through me without me saying anything. While I was setting the table in the monastery I thought "I wish I could do this in my own house!"

It's so easy to do something in silence! I came home and I asked my husband if we could have one breakfast each week where we didn't talk to each other. We just loved each other quietly in silence. (We eat our breakfast at 5:30 AM before he takes his long commute to work. So silence is possible because it is just the two of us adults at breakfast.)

When I asked if we could go 30 minutes a week without talking to each other, but loving each other in Silence, my husband's eyes got bright! My poor husband! I'm such a natural chatterbox. I make the mistake of thinking that if I'm constantly talking to him, I'm establishing greater emotional intimacy. Meanwhile, I think he's got the idea that what makes us close is much deeper than our shared conversation.

I'm excited that experiencing more Silence at home, can radically help my prayer life. Jesus, he doesn't need my words. Or he likes my words, but Jesus thirsts for something deeper. Jesus wants my heart! I think I'll gradually be more calm and patient with my prayer life (which is intangible) if I spend more time practicing silence with the tangible love of my life, my husband.

I'm so grateful for the Sisters at St. Emma's. I only spoke once out loud at the first introduction and heard the Mother Superior speak twice. Yet I feel like I have seven more Aunts in my corner! I can't wait to write to them all about the little individual details of myself and my family. A good nun has space in her heart to love you! It feels so good to be adored, encouraged and strengthened.

Pope Francis has made this the year of Consecrated Life. He's asked us to send letters to all the Religious Sisters and Brothers that we know in 2015. My children and I have resolved to touch base with all of our friends in Religious Life and also to make an effort to make new friends this year. I'm so grateful to so many Sisters who have given me encouragement on this spiritual path!

St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, pray for us!