Even though the calendar says we’re well into 2020, it doesn’t feel like the new year for me until I spend a weekend in silence. So, as I’ve done most Januarys since 1992, I’m again heading to a mountain retreat with Quakers for forty hours of silence. For most of us, myself included, even though we seek the silence for spiritual nourishment, remaining quiet and inward for forty hours is a challenge. Yet, we keep returning, and this retreat continues to thrive, now for somewhere in the neighborhood of 37 years.
Over the past three-plus decades I’ve attended, I’ve come to rely on the Silent Retreat at the forested Huston Retreat Center to shore me up. In the woods and in the rustic cabins, metaphors abound about the power of small actions—pencil-thin roots scrawling across the trail to support cedars stretched toward the sky; snowflakes collecting on peaks to feed waterfalls, pools, creeks, and rivers; coals and kindling in the fireplace igniting larger logs.
The registration form for the weekend describes it like this:
This retreat offers an opportunity to reach more profound depths in the Silence of Quaker worship. The weekend is not a retreat in the sense of turning away from life. It is a temporary, intentional community where we seek communion with the Holy Spirit, the world around us, and each other. With God’s help, we may be led to new priorities and insight for our lives. We may reach a deeper communion with our authentic selves, our spiritual community, and with the Divine.
The number of registrants ranges from 20 to 40. They come from Quaker meetings or worship groups on islands and inland; from Port Townsend, WA to Sand Point, ID; and from Bellingham to Olympia, WA. Often, a few isolated Friends without worshipping communities attend, and sometimes there are attenders who are friends of Friends for whom this is a new experience of Quakerism. Children willing to accept the discipline of silence are welcome, and several have attended over the years.
The Common Journals available to participants reflect a range of experiences, perceptions, and reflections about the silence. For some, remaining silent is stressful. Many use the words fed, filled, and nourished, literally as well as figuratively, to describe their experiences. For some, it’s the river, moss, and ferns that feed and inspire. Others are filled by the mist of Wallace Falls, the crackling and dancing flames of the fire, or the wind.
At the rise of Sunday morning Meeting for Worship, the group breaks the silence, with participants typically sharing reflections about the weekend. For the past few years, the organizers have arranged for an extra day in which those who stay can return to the silence after Sunday lunch. I’ll be joining them this year, soaking up as much silence together as I can.
See you in the new year.