One last guest post in response to this week’s hour-of-silence challenge, by youth worker Jo Herbert. Here she writes about her nervousness about undertaking a four and a half day silent retreat; and how God met powerfully with her there.
Even I was surprised when my ‘Myers Briggs’ test came back with the result on the Introvert/Extrovert axis with a big fat zero on Introvert and 34 on Extrovert! I knew I loved being with people, but a zero? So, it may be with some surprise that you find yourself reading of someone with (apparently) no introversion in their personality, writing about a Four and a half day silent retreat!
I had been inspired by a television programme called ‘The Big Silence’: a documentary following Benedictine monk, Abbot Christopher Jamison, as he took five people on an eight-day silent retreat. Every one of them met with God, so in a moment of inspiration (it was January) I made it my New Year’s resolution to do a silent retreat.
Excited and expectant, I started my retreat. So you understand the setting and rules, I was in a retreat centre (Glenfall House) in stunning countryside with roughly 25 others. Four and a half days of silence is long, so there are rhythms in the day that break it up: meals, eaten in silence, then 30 minutes with a spiritual director who give you questions to ponder or concepts to meditate. There is a communion service each afternoon and silent prayer in the evenings.
In the documentary, Abbot Christopher explained the journey people take. For the first couple of days, what you would expect happens; your mind is full of the things you should be doing instead of being in silence! After a couple of days that quietens and you begin to truly engage with yourself. Then, after a time you come to the end of yourself, and that is when you truly bump into God.
Although I knew about and understood this journey, I did not notice my own going through it until I looked back. The first full day I slept, only breaking the sleep with the rhythms. All began to quieten in me and I began to reflect on my life and God, and, as the Abbot predicted, I did naturally reach the end of this reflection on myself.
Then, after the best part of a day I learnt some very hard lessons about what it truly means to seek and wait on God (that day/evening is a whole other blog post!); there in the darkness and silence God graciously met with me in the most deep and profound way. There was no fanfare, no visions or shining light. In the quiet, in the darkness, God came. It floored me. I have never been so sincerely humbled in my life. God came with an invitation to go deeper into him.
It was like God took me to the edge of a cliff and showed me the most breath-taking view. As I approached the edge, I found myself overlooking the most enormous chasm that went deeper and wider and further than I could see. It was beautiful, full of vegetation, and it would take a lifetime to explore. This, he said, was how much more depth and life there was in him. This was my invitation to go deeper.
I went to bed that night in a bit of a daze, utterly humbled and floored from my encounter. My last day, I got up, and this raging extrovert sat in peace and stillness for the entire day. I have never experienced contentment in the presence of God like that before or since.
Jo Herbert is a 30 year old youth worker living in central London. She is passionate about justice and loves good (fairtrade) coffee, jogging and hot climates. She dislikes teddy bears (what’s the point?!), spicy food and rain! She’s also Tearfund’s Youth & Emerging Generation Coordinator.