CREDOS : Silent retreat — I

Our being is silent, but our existence is noisy — Thomas Merton. One Friday afternoon last year, I was taking my office building’s elevator down to the lobby, TravelPro suitcase in hand. In the elevator with me were three of my co-workers, one of whom asked, “Where are you off to this weekend?” “To a monastery, for a isilent retreat,” I said enthusiastically.

“I could never do that!” my young colleague exclaimed. “I couldn’t keep quiet for five minutes!” The others giggled and agreed.

Had I responded to that same question on the steps of the Episcopal church I attend, I think the reaction would have been looks of yearning and nods of understanding.

Of course, there are exceptions to that rule. My very first foray into silence came somewhat unwillingly when I was 12.

The eighth-grade girls of St Joseph’s Catholic School in Norwich, Connecticut, were packed off to the Immaculata Retreat House a couple of towns over.

For reasons only God knows, all of the girls were given rooms in the basement of the main building, while I somehow ended up in a single room in a wing where female oblates — lay women who associate themselves with a Christian community to enrich their spiritual lives — sometimes stayed. While my young compatriots chowed down on contraband chocolate and yakked the night away, I, out of boredom, read the Bible that was left in the room. —