Silence Is Like Fluoride
I expected that this retreat would be healing. I had a mental picture of myself with little pieces broken off all over and that this weekend I would have time to heal over. It was like I was a rotten tooth and the silence would be like fluoride.
They say that as we go about our regular business, eating and talking, etc., the enamel on our teeth gets little nicks and cracks. If we don’t take care of them, they can break completely. Fluoride somehow helps the tooth to remineralize the enamel to repair the damage that is a normal part of the life of a tooth. And dental professionals have found that we need to have a daily small application of fluoride, but also every six months or so, a deeper, longer application of concentrated fluoride.
Well, I think silence is kind of like that. In our daily interactions, we bump into people and things, we talk and relate, maybe parents especially are always giving little pieces of themselves away. And we get little nicks and cracks in our souls, our selves. It’s just a normal part of being human. Little bits of us get broken or torn off and if we aren’t careful, we can end up looking like social or spiritual Swiss cheese. But a small daily dose of silence can help. I’ve seen that in the last six months. At the moments when I seemed in danger of totally cracking apart, I would just imagine myself at my retreat place and breathe, for maybe 10 seconds, and it was enough. I could come back to my real life and go on coping with the normal chaos of my family life.
This weekend has been like a deep silence application. I feel remineralized, restored, like all the little cracks and nicks and chips have been filled in and smoothed over. Even though I still had to cook and clean. I read books and walked in the woods. I ate cookies and drank tea and sang songs when I felt like it. As you learn in the woods as much as in the city, nature is never completely silent. The trees, the birds, the beetles are all making their little rustlings and chirpings. Silence is not something out there, it is something inside of me. When I am silent enough, I can hear the trees, hear God, hear my children speaking to me in so many different ways.
But this weekend I had time to be genuinely still. I stood at the center of the labyrinth and on the bridge over the creek and just looked and listened and prayed. These are the moments of peace, of full present moment awareness that will fill my 10 second retreats for the next long while. What a treat to say, “Here I am, Lord,” and just for the moment, not have to do anything.
At the same time, I realized how rusty I am at the discipline of solitary prayer. How hard it is to make myself sit still and turn to God for any length of time. Maybe a busy family life is just my excuse not to have to do this hard work. In any case, I am reminded of why Meeting for Worship is not just between me and God.
I’m not sure what the dental equivalent of a weekly Meeting for Worship is. But I do know that it is an important intermediate source of silence and sustenance, between the 10 second retreat and the weekend long version. Every week I have the opportunity to sit with other people in silence, in a nurturing and caring community, along with God. To still myself and my noise long enough to hear God. And somehow, it’s easier to sustain in community.
Which brings me back to family life. At the end of my retreat, I am able to think quite fondly, and not anxiously, about my husband, my children, my friends. I feel whole and healthy enough to go back and touch them, listen to them, help them, without feeling like I am going to break completely apart. What a joyous gift of my first-ever, maybe soon-to-be-annual birthday retreat.
P.S. When I arrived at the cottage, I thought for a minute about how this retreat was mostly about taking care of myself, so I decided to go ahead and brush my own teeth.
P.P.S. I wrote this a couple of years ago, but was inspired by Peggy to publish it here now. Very different kind of retreat, similar kind of healing, I think. My little cottage in the redwoods is available for longer or shorter rentals.
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