04 December 2014


Every Advent I go away for a silent retreat at a nearby Trappist monastery.

The fall is an especially busy time of year for me personally and as the pastor of a church. By December, I am tired, ragged around the edges, and definitely feeling scattered. And yet, for the season to be truly meaningful, Advent demands that I intentionally create space for silence…to simply be…to allow God to be at work in mysterious and marvelous ways.

So I go away for three days to hang with the Trappists. Because, you know, they are really, really good at being quiet.

When I show up at the monastery guest house, they tell me which guest room is for me to use. I carry my few belongings to that simple, little room with a bed, a desk, a lamp, a wardrobe, and a rocking chair and then…

… “quietude.”

That was a new word to me when I first encountered it at the monastery. It comes from a little pamphlet I found in the desk of my room. It reads, in part:

“For this time of retreat…you have separated yourself from your usual daily pace and activities; they will make no demands on you while you are at the Abbey. You are free to enter into quietude! Our society has ingrained in us that we find success only when we put forth effort. A retreat, however, is a little different from that. When we ‘go apart’ for a spiritual retreat, we are seeking to make ourselves available so God can work in us and speak to us. [God] is not able to do so if we keep ourselves continually occupied and busy with doing things…

We need to be quiet.

We need to convince ourselves that it is perfectly all right to be quiet… that quietude is not a copout but a state of receptivity. If we allow our mind and body to be quiet, they are free to be open to God…Although you could no doubt take advantage of this retreat time to think-out and resolve many matters for yourself, you stand a much better chance of having them resolved in much more meaningful ways…if you leave all this work up to God. [God] won’t let you down. [God] asks that you be quiet and receptive so [God] might have the opportunity to ‘get a word in edgewise.’” (emphasis added)

This invitation to quietude is exactly why I return to the Abbey year after year. I step out of the swirl of activities and words and responsibilities and demands and tasks of everyday life so that, for just a few days, I can be quiet in a special way. It’s like I’ve been holding my breath for months and finally now can take a deep, full breath of deliciously crisp, clean air.

It’s like running madly along a path and then suddenly stopping to sit quietly by a little stream. And while sitting silently, expectantly, slowly I awaken to the sound of burbling water and I notice the tadpoles darting around in the shallow pools and I appreciate the smell of the fresh, cool air. All of which I completely miss when I hurriedly rush by.

I happen to think that most people would benefit from a little “quietude” so that “God might get a word in edgewise.” We live in such a noisy, distracted, busy world—which only gets more so in the weeks leading up to Christmas—that a little quietude would go a long way.

Especially during Advent.

Because during this season, without quietude, we may just overlook the inconspicuous, yet marvelous way, that God’s love is born among us.

“How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given…”