I am actually writing this piece from El Retiro, where I am here on what has come to be my
annual 8 day Silent Retreat. Many of you reading this may have been on your own silent retreat and if you have, you know exactly what I’m about to say. If you haven’t ever dipped your tow into a silent retreat, perhaps this blog post may nudge you a little closer.
Why silence? What is it about not talking to anyone (except an optional oft requested 45
minute talk with a spiritual director) for a whole week that is so enticing? Of course, everything I
talk about is from my own personal experience only, yet I imagine there are some universal
commonalities for anyone lucky enough to have a few days in silence in a retreat setting.
First of all, there are the very practical benefits, such as having absolutely nothing that I am
required to do all day! How cool is that? No meetings, deadlines, Zoom calls, no expectations
(expressed or hidden). Just the day laid out in front of me like a blank canvas. Naturally, the
underlying assumption at a Catholic retreat center, is that one will take time to pray, but the
specifics of that are left up to the retreatant. Perhaps it’s by meditative walks or meandering
through the labyrinth, or just sitting on a bench soaking up the sunshine, listening to the gentle
trickle of the water fountain or the birds singing their hearts out to each other, or sitting in a nice,
cool chapel just being.
Next there are the three full meals that are prepared with love for me, with none of the meal
planning and prep, shopping, cooking, chopping, seasoning, and cleaning up. Again, how
glorious? I just get to show up at meal times and voila! There is a variety of fresh fruit, a salad
bar, hot soup, savory entrees, with vegetarian/vegan/gluten free options, hot coffee and tea and
yes, dessert! My favorite is chocolate chip cookies. How absolutely wonderful to indulge in
them after a meal - the chocolate oozing out of the softly baked cookie. They are always the
most popular because people can’t stop eating them! Ironically, and despite the cookies, I
always feel so healthy here, even though I eat typically more than in my “regular” life, because
of all the salad and veggies I consume while here.
I like to exercise every day (or at least attempt to fit it into my daily routine) and when I am on
retreat, there’s not “squeezing in” physical activity - again, because the day is mine and I can
exercise anytime I want for as long as I want. So my typical 30 - 45 minute walks are stretched
out to 1.5 to 2.5 hour walks. What a luxury!
Another bonus is that there is time to attend daily mass. In my perfect world, I would do this but
the reality is that it’s simply not convenient enough in my daily commitments of motherhood,
work, meal prep, volunteering, etc…Here - no problem. The chapel is a minute walk from my
room and mass is conveniently scheduled at 5:15 p.m. No setting alarms to wake up early for
Did I mention that you don’t have to get up early for anything? Unless of course you want to eat
that hot, delicious breakfast. But even if you did miss it, there is fresh fruit available 24/7 to tide
you over until lunch.
Being here is like a week long summer sleepover camp with God- no rules, I can stay up as late
as I want, eat what I want with no repercussions, star gaze late into the night. Only upsides.
Those upsides consist of what could be a whole book ~ and yes, whole books have been written
on the virtues of silence. I’ll just list my own stream of conscience benefits from my 20+ years of
going on silent retreats:
Retreats are a time to: listen, hear better, replenish, unplug, unwind, experience spaciousness,
linger in your day, read scripture, nourish and feed my soul, to be and not to do.
As a paraphrase of Psalm 93 from A Book of Psalms: Selected and Adapted from the Hebrew.
“God acts within every moment
and creates the world with each breath.
He speaks from the center of the universe,
in the silence beyond all thought.
Mightier than the crash of a thunderstorm,
mightier than the roar of the sea,
is God’s voice is silently speaking
in the depths of the listening heart.”
Most importantly, and at the core of Ignatian spirituality, retreats are a time to find God in all
The bottom line is that, again for me (and perhaps hopefully for you), going on a silent retreat is
a gift in yourself, an investment in your self-preservation, like getting your car serviced every
10,000 miles, except you are getting your spirit and soul serviced. Silence reveals things that
we don’t hear in our everyday lives of talking, commuting, reading, walking, adulting, parenting,
or listening to the radio/podcasts/news/ballgames. It’s a time to go inward to then go outward.
As the tag line for JRC/El Retiro says, “retreats change lives.” Won’t you consider an investment
in yourself to change your life for the better?
P.S. If I had chosen to write this post while not on a silent retreat, it wouldn’t have been the
same. The silence elicits and evokes stirrings in me that I cannot hear otherwise.
Mitchell, Stephen. A Book of Psalms: Selected and Adapted from the Hebrew . Harper
Perennial, a Division of HarperCollins Publishers, 1993
Ellen Kelly is a spiritual director. She earned a MTS from The Jesuit School of Theology