A five day silent retreat - a foretaste of Heaven
By Clare Boyd-Macrae
July 7 2017I’m trying to remember the last time I had what you might call a ‘mountaintop experience’. Maybe they are phenomena more associated with youth and its enthusiasms. Which sounds a bit sad, but it’s not; mountain top times were too often ephemeral, followed by troughs, disappointment and despair.
I’m not long back from the foretaste of heaven that is a five day silent retreat. Each day we had free time during which I walked a great deal. We ate and rested well. We had a daily talk from Fr Laurence Freeman, director of the World Community for Christian Meditation, we had short liturgies, and we had times of contemplative prayer, or Christian meditation—five a day, each 25 minutes long, sitting in complete silence, all 160 or so of us, quietly breathing and saying our prayer word in our hearts.
The experience of sitting in a room with so many people silently communing with the divine is powerful. You are carried along in the stream of prayer flowing from so many faithful hearts to their Maker, Redeemer and Sustainer. Christian mystics have long maintained that when we pray, we open ourselves to being caught up in the current of love flowing between the members of the Trinity, and it certainly feels a bit like that.
It’s not all beer and skittles, not all floaty feelings of peace and harmony. As happens when I’m meditating on my own at home, most of the time my thoughts fly from one inane thing to another, as thoughts do, and I bring them gently back to God. In fact I try not to think, but to focus on my prayer word which somehow helps to by-pass rational thought and takes me to a deeper place of communion with the great loving power we call God.
The point of the whole exercise is not to feel good, it is simply to set aside time to be with God, thus increasing our openness to God’s grace and healing, widening the part of ourselves that is a channel of God’s love into the small bit of the world immediately around us.
It’s certainly not a mountaintop experience, or has never been for me. It’s just something I do each day that I trust will open my heart more effectively to the loving God who is always seeking to be closer to each one of us.
I come home at the end of the five days, simultaneously weary and profoundly rested. My own faltering prayer practices have had a shot in the arm. I have a deeper reservoir of compassion for others and even for myself; I believe a tiny bit more that God delights in me. I am conscious of a welling up of joy. I’m reminded that the love that I plug into every time I pray will see me through every season of my life.
Maybe it’s the middle-aged equivalent of a mountain top experience. It’s certainly steadier and more lasting. It’s good enough for me.
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