So I’ve just come back from my first Carmelite silent retreat. It was awesome.
With 3 kids and a sick husband i could only commit to going for 24 hours so I was determined to make the most of it. Of course my alarm didn’t go off the morning i was going, so I arrived late and unfortunately i missed the first talk.
When I did get there I suddenly realised that i had completely forgotten to reply to the original email so there for i had forgotten to book a room, and it seems they were fully booked.
Thankfully, one of the other seculars was leaving that afternoon, so they allowed me to stay in her room. I apologised, and thanked her – in silence.
Actually the silence was exactly what i needed. I was tired from my stressful morning and 2 hour drive and so the first thing i did was to make a cup of tea and go and find a nice spot in the beautiful grounds to sit quietly on my own. Of course at this point it started raining.
Never mind. There was some benches undercover, and the chapel was open 24/7. So i had a little explore round silently on my own.
After about an hour i started getting restless. An hour of silence is a complete luxury for me. In fact i would go as far as to say it is completely alien. I have 3 screaming kids and an unemployed husband. My home is NOT a quiet place. I’m just not used to it any more. I didn’t realise how noisy my life had become.
But the real issue was the fact that the silence was making me aware of all the internal noise going on within me. It was actually making me extremely uncomfortable. Ironically, at home, the constant screaming and shouting actually serves to distract me from what is going on inside me. But now i was in a situation where the silence was forcing me to confront the things inside. It was ugly. I didn’t want to admit a lot of stuff. I needed to find a distraction.
So i got my phone out and went on Facebook. In silence.
When I had finally summed up enough courage to instruct my friends to block me for the next 24 hours because i was on silent retreat (because i have no will power AT ALL) I finally found myself alone. With God.
I couldn’t take it! I just COULDN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!!! So i started talking to myself. Out loud.
Thankfully at this point it was time for the second talk which focused on Teresa of Avila and how she described our own personal relationship with God as something that is inseparable from our relationship within our own communities, and how we need great humility to be able to live this active/contemplative life of prayer. And even though the talk was excellent and hit exactly the right chord – this was pretty much the last straw for me.
I had to face the ugly fact that i had been using prayer as a distraction from my responsibilities as a wife and a mother. The truth is that i’m not particularly enjoying my vocation at the moment. It feels like i am completely trapped in a life of screaming kids and “conversations” about the fact that we have not had an income for 18 months and what the hell we are going to do about it. My home feels like a prison. God is the jailer and my sentence is marriage and family (God forgive me for saying so…)
To admit the fact that i am physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted and heavily resenting my vocation is something i had been avoiding admitting to myself for a long, long time. Besides – when you are in the situation of constant noise and relentless activity, the exhaustion becomes, well, normal. It is only when faced with silence, real silence, that the external and internal distractions start to melt away and I find myself alone with God. This is Carmel.
“Ok.” I said out loud. “If i’m going to have to face this with You then I’m going to need a packet of Cigarettes.”
“WHAT???!!!” I hear you say – “A Catholic mother of 3 smoking???!!! On retreat???!!!” Yes, I’m afraid so. I spent most of the rest of the evening sitting outside in the rain smoking, and and polarising between being extremely angry with God, and begging Him for help. In fact I stayed out there so long into the night, I actually found myself locked out of the retreat centre. In the rain.
So eventually they let me in and I went to my room to dry my tears and lay down in the silence – until the fire alarm went of at 1am and proceeded to “BLAH!BLAH!BLAH!” until 4am.
Awesome silent retreat. Awesome.