What happens when you go silent for a weekend


In my professional life, I talk a lot.  I lead discussions and field student questions and give directions for lesson plans and assignments.

In my personal life, I talk a lot.   I nag kids to pick up toys and call my family to the dinner table and answer little-boy questions about how astronauts pee in space (“Maybe Daddy knows?”).

So going on a silent retreat for a weekend sounded tremendously appealing … and also, interestingly enough, somewhat terrifying.

Do I even remember how to do silence?  I wondered as I packed up my classroom for the summer and then came home and immediately packed up a suitcase for my weekend away.  Hours later I headed to the Jesuit Retreat House in Los Altos,  full of hope for the weekend and also somewhat apprehensive about what a weekend in a tranquil, quiet place would do to my chronically overstimulated soul.

I knew the place itself would be gorgeous; I’d been there a few times over the years.   The hilltop property was acquired by the Jesuits in the 1920s, and has functioned as a retreat house ever since.   As I wandered around the beautiful grounds,  I thought about how something Catholics have traditionally done very well — at least here in northern California — is real estate.  This is a stunning piece of land, with tremendous views.

View from the upper parking lot.

It’s hard to tell from my photo, but we’re up high here.

View of the hills beyond.

View of the hills beyond.

I had a private room with private bath (everyone does here).  One of the first things I did was I set up the little writing desk with books, notebook, and the Our Father prayer cube belonging to the boys, which Matthew offered to me as I was about to leave.



View out of my window, looking at the chapel.

View out of my window, looking at the chapel.

Nice as my room was, I was rarely in it; the grounds are so beautiful, with walking paths and statues and and a labrynth and benches everywhere for retreatants to sit and ponder.



One of my favorite spots for prayer was this little olive grove, on the side of the hill.  There’s a statue of Jesus kneeling as in Gethsemane (look in the middle of the picture and you’ll see him), and a bench where I did a lot of writing and reflecting.  I recommend it at all times of day, but maybe especially in the evening, when the light is so rich and golden.


With all the dust and olive trees, it was easy to feel a connection to Palestine of two thousand years ago, and to the man who lived and healed and prayed and loved and showed us all  how to live.


It was the Feast of the Visitation on Saturday, which made it doubly  nice to reflect on Mary, that mother who understands moms everywhere.




I noticed the stones placed at Mary’s feet and knew they had to be there to mark requests for her prayers.   I added one of my own.  Having a tangible, concrete sign of my prayer intention felt good.

It also felt good to go to confession, for the first time in … well, a long time.  I hadn’t planned to do it; my personal relationship to confession is complicated, to say the least, and a story for another time.  But the silence and slowness of the weekend invited me to look squarely at some things in my life instead of running away from them, as I usually do.  I had to confront them and name them and move beyond them, and with the gentle and kind presence of the priest, I did.  My whole body felt different afterwards.  It was an experience I’m still processing.

In fact, pretty much everything about the weekend renewed me in some way.  It’s been such a hard year at work, taxing for lots of reasons.  Being able to mark the first weekend of the summer vacation by retreating into reflection was like a huge gift.  (In fact, it literally was a gift; for my birthday earlier this year, my husband told me to pick out a retreat to attend, my first since having kids.  He was alone with the boys all weekend.  I will begin his canonization process shortly.)

And there’s so much more to process: things that swirled to the surface for me, epiphanies and insights and sparks of creative ideas and challenges and affirmation.  Most of all, there was a renewed bond with the person of Christ, who loves me in spite of everything I’ve done and failed to do.

And that came back home with me, into the clutter and bustle of family life, right where I need it.


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