By Barb Arland-Fye
Our Catholic Messenger staff makes an annual retreat to brainstorm in a relaxed, peaceful atmosphere. One year we made reservations at a location where a silent retreat was underway. Fortunately, we were in a separate space where we could engage in lively conversation. Over the lunch hour, we were invited to join the other retreatants in the dining area for a meal to be observed in silence. None of us had previously been on a silent retreat and found the silence at mealtime to be a struggle. Our advertising representative at the time, worried about breaking the silence, refrained from eating the potato chips on his plate!
My memory of our limited exposure to a silent retreat came to mind during the second weekend of Advent in two different sacred spaces: a church and the snow-covered deck of my home. As leader of the parish liturgy committee, I committed to being present during the four Saturdays of Advent for Eucharistic Adoration and Evening Prayer from Liturgy of the Hours. Deacon Mike Moetsch leads this hour of adoration and prayer before the 5:30 p.m. Mass at Our Lady of the River Church in LeClaire. But when he’s away on business or traveling, I step in.
For several years since we’ve offered this special observance of Advent, I fretted about sparse attendance. What if no one else shows up on a Saturday night? But this Advent, something changed about my attitude. The silence of the church has calmed my preoccupied mind. A sense of peace, of grace, of being present to our God envelops me. I am resting in the Lord and yes, sometimes the peacefulness lulls me to sleep for a few minutes!
Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer of the church, is a beautiful way to acknowledge God’s presence in our lives. This prayer can be shared with any number of people, or alone. Father Bill Kneemiller, a diocesan priest and terrific advocate for Liturgy of the Hours, likes to remind me that when I pray this form of prayer, others around the world are praying with me. What a powerful expression of unity. This time in church has become a mini retreat for me, alternating between silence and spoken prayer.
On the second Sunday of Advent, that long ago silent retreat came to mind again as I cleared pure white snow off the deck of my family’s house in LeClaire. While emptying shovelfuls of snow, I gazed at the mesmerizing scene before me: Lean black tree limbs and bushes frosted with white coating. A rose bush that just last month showed blooms looked like a white sculpture frozen in place. The snow kept falling, silently, gently, like a security blanket to calm our fractured culture.
I am blessed to see God’s handiwork in nature and feel so close to God at these moments. It’s a growing awareness that “We are all the guests of God’s hospitality. The world in which we live is pure gift,” as theologian Monika Hellwig observes in her book “Guests of God.”
This Advent, I am welcoming every opportunity for mini retreat experiences that draw me closer to God and enhance my appreciation for the gift of salvation that we celebrate anew at Christmas.
(Barb Arland-Fye, Editor, can be reached at email@example.com.)