There's too much noise in my world. I can't hear anything.

Actually, at the moment, there is a lull, and I am listening to birds sing outside my window. They get started before five in the morning when it's truly quiet and they sing most of the day, but their songs are soon drowned out by the sounds of increasing vehicular traffic and the train that goes by early in the morning and then by the roar of leaf blowers and lawn mowers and big trucks, punctuated by the occasional siren from a police car or fire truck on a nearby street or an airplane overhead. The lull is nice; it gives my ears and brain a break. Summer is so hot and noisy.

A friend recently told me about the joys of a silent retreat. I am afraid of silent retreats. My head makes more noise than all the things noted above, even the beautiful birds. Being on silent retreat with my noisy head seems counterproductive - hardly restful at all. Sometimes I can't even read without veering off into active remembering and recrimination; the voices in my head clamoring for me to remember that time I messed this up, remember that time I was humiliated. This is why I prefer the ocean - the pounding pushes the noise out of my head with every wave that washes up on the shore, washing away not only the footprints and detritus on the sand but also washing away my noisy thoughts and inner voices that accuse and jeer at me. It's like baptism that washes away my sins, having the ocean wash away the consternation and fear and frustration with both the world and myself again and again with a reliable rhythm that says, "I know these things will return to haunt you, to clamor for your attention; and I will likewise return to soothe you again and again."

Some of my discomfort is just part of city life. I drive my son to day camp on six-lane surface streets (not to mention the interstate highway that comes into play several times a week and used to be part of my daily commute); neighbors mowing their lawns in the early morning sound as if they are right outside my window (because they are!); huge trucks that go over the speed bump in front of our house make the entire house rattle. It's hot in town - steam rises from the streets when a hit and run shower does little to cool things off and heat rises from the streets the rest of the time. There's visual noise, too - the many lanes of traffic full of cars, all the road signs and billboards, the nonstop buildings. The city is exciting and there's always something fun going on but it can be overwhelming even for an extrovert like me.

I think the ideal life combines noise and quiet, fun and downtime, simplicity and complexity, people time and alone time. Time to soak up the sun, to smell the flowers, to feel cool breezes; to read, to think, to talk; to be entertained and stimulated; to listen to the birds and the lapping of water. Most of us don't have the resources to have the ideal life - house in the city, place in the country, stimulating jobs and plenty of time away for rest and rejuvenation, time to spend with family, time to tend one's spiritual life, time to go all out and time to just do nothing.

For whatever reason, it's the noise that distresses me the most. Especially the noise inside my head. I'm trying to listen for God and I'm having trouble hearing.


June Butler said…
I am afraid of silent retreats.

Thee and me. Since my high school years, I have not made regular silent retreats. Over the years I've made maybe three. My last silent retreat was a disaster.

First of all, I was not much taken with the retreat director and his talks. Then, the priest proceeded to thoroughly humiliate a woman who was in the back of the room trying to signal her friend to give her a sweater. The woman in the back of the room disturbed me much less than the attack by the priest on the woman for disturbing his talk, and I never fully recovered.

During the retreat, I chose to read a life of St. Francis of Asissi from Butler's Lives of the Saints. All saints were/are a little crazy, but, as Butler told the story, Francis seemed positively insane. The writer emphasized Francis' personal disciplines and his asking for more suffering in his last illness. The message was suffer, suffer, suffer, and I was thoroughly put off poor St. Francis.

Then, during the night before the last day of the retreat, I became quite ill with a stomach virus, and I was sick for most of the night and the following day. I managed to pull myself together in the morning long enough to make the 25 minute trip home, and I was so glad to be out of there.

Later, I asked a priest friend to recommend another biography of Francis as an antidote to Butler's version. He recommended "God's Fool" by Julian Green, which served me well as an antidote.

I've done single days of recollection a few times since then, but never a several day retreat. It's not the noises in my head; it's quite unpleasant memories that keep me away from silent retreats.

Sorry. I didn't mean to write an essay.
Thanks, Mimi. I think the unpleasant memories are another version of the same thing I mean here - that which interferes with our ability to listen for God despite our best intentions. I am sure that not all of us are cut out for silent retreats but I wish I didn't feel defensive about it. That makes it worse.
June Butler said…
Penny, I don't feel a bit defensive about not doing silent retreats, TBTG.