Silent Retreat at St. Raphaela

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010
Silent Retreat at St. Raphaela

For Christmas last year, William gave us a night at St Raphaela Retreat House that he had purchased at a charity auction at St. Joseph’s University. Fran and I decided to make this our own silent retreat as a couple – something that we had previously discussed but never done. Early May was an ideal time to use William’s gift. It was after the finish of my classes and before final exams at Villanova, and the grounds would be particularly beautiful at that season.

The retreat center is an old mansion that has been adapted for visiting groups and individual sojourners. Sister Margaret Scott was our contact and host for the visit. After leaving our bags in the comfortable, homey room we were provided, Fran and I, silently, toured the grounds, with a particular eye for mushrooms. We were not disappointed, and found many.

This was also the opportunity to discover what a “silent” retreat actually meant for us. Our intention was for much more than simply lack of vocalization, but the realization of a certain simplicity, and also for the sharpening of observation, and for shared feelings without the necessity of words. Language is extraordinarily helpful for sharing, but at times it can get in the way of, or become a false substitute for, the actual experience itself. Language is the representation of something, but rarely the thing in itself.

Essentially, we were free to express and share our emotions openly by bodily actions, but we would not pantomime or do any sort of charades as a substitute for speech. It's often customary, Sister Margaret Scott explained, to break silence during meals, to facilitate the meal, check schedules, and to reflect on and discuss the silence. But in fact we found little need or desire to use this opportunity when the time came, and so we remained nearly silent even during meal times. We returned from our walk of the grounds at the appointed dinner time, and were invited to help ourselves to food in the kitchen (we were the only dinner guests that evening). Very comfortable and friendly.

We had a comfortable night, and awoke at 6:30 in the morning for a walk outside. The moon was visible in the blue sky, opposite the rising sun. Breakfast was laid out for us in the dining room, and a small church group of a dozen or so had arrived in the evening and were already having their breakfast. They readily understood that we were silent. We toured the grounds the rest of the morning until lunch time, enjoyed our lunch, and then left about 2:00 pm. We expressed our appreciation to our hosts, but it seemed almost a shame to start speaking again.    Peace.