From noise to silence
Published: Friday, January 25, 2013
Updated: Friday, January 25, 2013 13:01
In just a few days’ time, I’ll be getting married. So this past weekend I did what any hot-blooded man staring down the final hours of bachelorhood would: I spent 48 hours in a convent on the North Shore not speaking.
Under the best of circumstances, wedding planning, with all its many demands, can make us lose sight of what’s important. From inside the whirlwind of cake tastings, vow writing and zebra-racing bachelorette parties, it’s nearly impossible to hear yourself think — never mind be attentive to the voice of God speaking in your heart, which is why I decided to participate in the Ignatian silent retreat for faculty and staff.
Adjusting to the silence was a challenge; the absolute stillness around me was discomfiting, leaving me no quarter in which to take shelter from the jumble of preoccupations running amok in my head. I struggled to settle in, to figure out how to listen peacefully. At first, slowing down made me palpably aware of just how tired I was. Between the wedding, the holidays and the start of a new semester, it turns out that I’ve been running on adrenaline and sheer force of will for some time. At dinner the first night, I couldn’t help noticing that I was eating faster than many people, frantically chewing in the expectation of needing to get somewhere else soon, but there was no place to go.
Gradually, I began applying the brakes. I listened as the retreat directors guided me through a series of reflections on my sense of being loved and gifted and called. I read. I spent long spells in a rocking chair watching birds pecking away joyfully at the many feeders suspended around the patio, first wondering why it was that God created so many species of bird and then realizing that it might be because they’re just so fun to watch when we take the time to stop and notice. (Genesis tells us that God rested after the sixth day; it doesn’t mention Him going back to work, and I think it may be because He’s been bird-watching ever since.)
It’s difficult to overestimate how important stopping and noticing are. I can’t say that I experienced any great epiphany while I was on retreat, nor that I was at peace the entire weekend. I wasn’t. I was agitated at times and anxious about the many things that would need to be done when I returned home. But being uncomfortable with silence helped me acknowledge how acclimated I had become to noise. Loyola is a busy place, but busyness is a choice, and it behooves us all —faculty, students and staff — to make time to embrace the silence.
John Sebastian is an Associate Professor of English and can be reached at