You won’t hear from me for a while. And I won’t hear from you. I won’t answer my phone. I won’t listen to your voicemails. I won’t read emails or text messages or status updates or tweets or… well… just about anything (and, yes, writing this now I’m amazed I ever found the time to read all of those in the first place). I won’t see your pictures. I won’t count your “likes” and your “shares.” I won’t know if your relationships become “complicated” or if you are suddenly “❤” married. I won’t know what you’re watching on Social Cam or reading on Yahoo or listening to on Spotify.
For the next eight days I will immerse myself in silence.
Every Jesuit makes an annual 8-day silent retreat and this week I’ll be with nearly one hundred other Jesuits in silent prayer and meditation, in companionship and contemplation. I will pray for you, my anonymous reader and friend, and for our world that is so in need of healing. I will think often about the people I love and those who (inexplicably!) love me too. But mostly I will spend time in the presence of restorative silence; I will simply spend time with God.
But it could be that, as far as you’re concerned, I’ll be just be out of touch. And you have every right to wonder why.
I need this time. I long for it. Of course I do what I can to nurture silence in my heart on a daily basis, but these annual retreats are privileged moments, graced times. They are, in a word, a gift.
It’s not that I need to get away from you. It’s not that I can’t find the joy of love and the presence of God immersed in our world. It’s simply that I need time to be with God. Or really: it’s simply that I need God. I immerse myself in silence so that I can clear the air, the desk, the mind, the heart, and make room again for God. I need this time because I need God.
It seems to me that in our daily lives there is a kind of game being played and in every game there is a pause, there are moments of rest and re-collection. Some of these moments are planned time-outs, and some just kind of happen. These retreats are like those moments.
Remember the days when we would gather some friends and head down to the schoolyard basketball courts to play? Occasionally, in our enthusiasm, our fun, our sweaty exuberance we would try things we never thought possible and some of them actually worked! Passes completed! Shots made! Successes celebrated! But every once in a while the ball would slip away, take an odd angle off of the rim, and bounce beyond our grasp, out of bounds. Sometimes it would roll across the playground like an escaped convict on the run.
Someone would have to jog out to get it, chasing it down, away from the game. Things would pause for a moment. Everyone would catch his or her breath. Perhaps the person running after the ball would see another kind soul in the errant ball’s path. They’d call out to the stranger in a common, casual expression of unintended import and vulnerability: “A little help! Hey there! A little help please!” Imagine these words directed at God and they become the most sincere words of prayer ever uttered: “A little help! Hey there! A little help!”
I feel in some way that a retreat is like this moment. I’ve stepped away from the game to retrieve something lost, to catch my breath, to find the one thing necessary for the game to continue. The Compassionate Stranger bends over and takes the ball in hand and then performs a simple, perhaps thoughtless, act of generosity, an act of random kindness. Given the opportunity to be of “a little help” they toss the ball back to me and I jog back to join the players on the court so the game can continue.
So there I’ll be. For the next eight days I’ll be standing on the edge of the playground with God. You can imagine me off at a distance saying those simple words of petition: “A little help! Hey God, we need a little help here.”
Instead of jogging back, I’ll probably walk a bit near the end. I’ll take my time returning to the court, catching my breath, considering my next moves, and gathering strength for the remainder of the game. And then I’ll run back to you and we’ll continue to play. I’ll be wearing a smile of subtle gratitude for the Compassionate Stranger who met me halfway, who answered my cry for “a little help,” and who tossed the ball back to us kids so that we could finish our game. And we’ll keep on playing until the streetlights come on and we all have to go home.