As a spiritual practice, I sometimes write journal entries in the present tense to give the memory depth and meaning. The following is one memory regarding my early introduction to practice of silence.
Ten miles from my adolescent home in Bremerton, Washington, is a small Bible camp named Lutherhaven. Situated on the west side of Wildcat Lake, the camp has two sections. The first is a picnic area with a large picnic shelter for congregational gatherings, a softball field and a small swimming beach with a short dock. Across a small footbridge and deeper into the tall fir forest is the camp itself. Six or so small sleeping cabins with metal frame bunks line a path in the woods. They feel ancient and bare-bones to my teenage senses. The path leads to the tall A-frame building with cedar shakes, through which I can see the sky. The building holds the kitchen, open dining hall/chapel, and a small office/storage rooms. My first trips to the camp had been for the annual confirmation retreat that always seem to coincide with the fishing opener so that my pastor could spend the early morning on the dock fishing.
My strongest memory and an essential seed to my spiritual path is a High School retreat. Jerry and Nada Torgerson are my church Luther League advisors and I am about 16 years old. Nada is a student at the Lutheran Bible Institute and they often bring engaging Bible lessons or spiritual practices for our Luther League gatherings. At this retreat of a dozen teenagers Nada invites us to practice silence for several hours one evening, instructing us to be silent and pray or read scripture. We are free to move about the camp but not to engage in conversation with each other.
At first I am surprised that they want us to be silent. Usually they want us to talk about Jesus, God, the Bible, or other religious material. I don’t think I will like the silence, a whole evening to sit, pray, and reflect alone. After all I enjoy talking!
I wander into the kitchen wondering if there might be something to snack on. After looking and finding nothing appetizing, I sit on a counter and just observe the other people there. Even though we are not talking, we are interacting – something about the silence seems to draw us into deeper intimacy – as if we have peeled back one of the masks we are often wearing and now are seeing each other without the persona. A feeling of contentment enfolds me. I silently pray a word of gratitude.
In the chapel, I read a short piece of scripture and start to pray my thoughts, but my mind wanders after a bit. The silence is disarming. Is God truly here? What time is it?
After awhile I go outside, down to the dock to sit. The stillness of the night strikes me. I feel the cold air as I breathe. I look up and marvel at the night sky and the silent forest around me. I sense that there is more here than I am ready to receive. I am drawn into the silence yet unsure how to be with it. I am trying to analyze it and figure it out. I have glimpses of something special going on, but then my mind moves on to other ruminations and thoughts. The evening ends and we all quickly jump back into conversation. We talk about how cool the silence was, but it is a novelty that we are not quick to repeat.
I sense that the evening of shared silence was healing and significant, yet I am not sure how to move deeper with it. I have no instruction about how to deal with my relentless thoughts and ideas. I vaguely hear a call or whisper in the silence but unsure what to do. A seed of silence is planted, but it would take decades for it to sprout and grow. Not until I pick up the daily spiritual practice of Centering Prayer (in my sixties) will the silence begin to show its true depth and beauty.
If you sense a whisper or call to silence, sign up for the Introduction to Centering Prayer on Zoom that I will be co-teaching, starting Tuesday, November 10 at 9am. You will learn how to build a daily spiritual practice of twenty minute silence and how to “manage” the ongoing thoughts, feeling and sensations that accompany us as we consent to God’s presence and action within us. More information and registration are at https://www.minnesotacontemplativeoutreach.org/enrichment.html#intro