Yesterday evening at approximately 7 pm, I rang a ceremonious bell three times, and our Silent Retreat began. We gathered at 6 pm for dinner, introduced ourselves, and talked about how to “be” in the silence for the next 40 hours. Then, all of us, at the sound of the bell, entered the sanctuary of silence until noon on Saturday.
Does that sound terrifying or like torture to you?
Often that is what it feels like—initially—for those who participate in the retreat. But then, after a few hours of acclimating, silence opens into a spacious sanctuary. A holy shelter. A numinous refuge of healing and rest.
I was reminded of this sanctuary just this morning as I read Psalm 63, a Psalm of David, composed while he was hiding out in the Wilderness of Judah. David writes,
O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.
“I have looked upon you in the sanctuary.” What sanctuary, we might wonder? What was David looking upon, all alone, surrounded by desert wilderness? Might it be the pristine, undisturbed silence of the desert sanctuary?
It seems apropos to compare silence to the wilderness. The desert is barren and desolate. Silence feels that way, too. A vacuous space with no boundaries or limits, much like the Mojave desert where all you see for miles and miles is sand.
David speaks of his encounter with the God of love in this sanctuary of silence. He wrote that the experience was better than life itself; that his soul was satiated as with a rich feast; that he was filled to the brim with joy and desire for God.
These are the gifts that the hand of silence extends to those who dare to enter its sanctuary. So I am here, we are here, shoes off, entering with reverence, expectantly waiting.