by Father Mark Goldasich
The final tally is in: me, 6; hammock, 1.
I just returned from five days at Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House in Sedalia — Colorado, not Missouri. It’s between Colorado Springs and Denver, about eight hours and a bit from Tonganoxie.
The retreat house literature says: “The atmosphere of prayerful silence is the gift we give to one another.” In other words, time spent here is in the Jesuit tradition, where “retreatants agree to abstain from conversation during their stay, except during the daily meetings with their spiritual director and participation in the celebration of Eucharist.”
Yes, hard to believe, but I was actually quiet for those five days . . . and I loved every minute of it. Imagine coming into the dining room there. You pick up a tray, select what you want from the buffet and then sit down at a table. There are maybe 20 other people in the room, but about the only sound you hear is soft music playing in the background. (I say, “about the only sound you hear” because I found that you really can’t eat raw carrots, tacos or potato chips “quietly.”)
Not having to worry about table chitchat means you notice things — like the taste of food, the speed at which you normally eat or how you handle your knife and fork. Silence promotes a deep awareness.
The retreat house — “a little bit of heaven on a hill” — sits on about 280 acres and is filled with walking paths. Along the way, there were plenty of chairs, benches and gliders, so you can sit, pray, ponder, write and drink in the beauty of the Rocky Mountain foothills.
One of my favorite spots was a pond covered with water lilies that also had a gurgling fountain. Everything was designed to promote not only outer peace, but inner peace as well.
Mary O’Hara, an Irish soprano and harpist, captured this experience well:
“One day last summer, after I’d been working on some songs, I left the harp before the open window. Suddenly, I heard the sound of distant and lovely music. It lasted only a few seconds and left me puzzled. When it happened again, I noticed that the sound came from the instrument and was caused by the gentle breeze playing on the harp strings.
“At times of prayer, we can be like that harp, by allowing sufficient calm to gather round us so that the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God, may play his music on us. But remember, it was a very gentle breeze and the music could be heard only because of the surrounding stillness. (Found in Anthony Castle’s “A Treasury of Quips, Quotes & Anecdotes.”)
Helping me to discover those promptings of the Spirit was my spiritual director, Father Ed Kinerk, SJ. I met with him for about an hour each morning.
At our first meeting, he surprised me by knowing where Tonganoxie was. He explained that he served as president of Rockhurst University in Kansas City from 1998-2006 and had ties to St. Ann in Prairie Village. It really is a small world.
In addition to having time to read some spiritual books, two main themes occupied my prayer there: joy and gratitude. The quiet gave me the opportunity to recall the innumerable blessings of my life, especially wonderful people. Each day, I prayed for a number of them — by name — and was filled with happiness for how they shaped me into the person I am today.
I was particularly grateful for the opportunity to enjoy this silent retreat, a rarity for many people in our busy and noisy world.
Oh, about the tally at the beginning of this article. Scattered around the retreat grounds were about a half dozen hammocks. They tempted me by how comfortable they looked, swaying gently in the cool breeze.
But I was intimidated. Could I gracefully get into one, let alone get out of it?
Swallowing my pride, I eventually took the plunge and, over the next few days, only tumbled out of a hammock once! Thank goodness no one saw me —because their hysterical laughter would have shattered the silence for miles around!