“We do not need to go find love; rather, we need to be still and let love discover us.” -John O’Donohue.
By: Justin Studebaker
It was a cold, windy and rainy day in January, 2017. I was exhausted after finishing another stressful, chaotic Christmas season at Nordstrom. This weekend’s silent retreat with Christus Ministries was a welcome respite from the noise of my daily life. The two hour drive to St. Albert’s Priory in the Oakland Hills gave me plenty of time to pray and reflect on the previous year. Since my return to the Catholic Church, in late 2014, there have been surprises and discoveries I wasn’t expecting. Gifts and talents were being unveiled, but also unflattering vices highlighted; all of them changing me in fundamental ways from the inside out. I hoped and prayed that John O’Donohue’s beautiful prayer could become a reality in my life, or at least a reality for the next three days. That is the beauty of silent retreats–being allowed the space to be still and let love discover me.
To be honest, I was burnt out. Coming back to the Church and having a powerful conversion of faith meant a renewed passion and fervor to serve. This was a new experience for me. Giving of myself in service became my number one priority.
And during this time of ministry, a new love for animals had developed, and with an opportunity to adopt two kittens who were brother and sister presented itself. Without thinking it through too much I adopted them and named them Mary and Francis. How appropriate. Boy was there a learning curve. Until now, I had never owned animals before. But they proved to be wonderful and loving companions.
My desire to attend daily Mass grew steadily upon my return to the Church and it became a regular habit. I was on the leadership team for my young adult church group, co-leading a CLC small group and singing in a choir. The previous year a desire to serve teens in foster care had formed. It first began with four teens who I provided one-style workshop to with one other fellow volunteer. Over the following year and a half it somehow turned into a program serving 30 teens in foster care with over twenty volunteers supporting the efforts. We were providing style workshops, shopping sprees and putting on fundraisers to raise money for the shopping sprees. Not to mention my full time job as a men’s stylist at Nordstrom and whatever family and friend social life I could squeeze in. Something had to give because I was reaching my breaking point.
Sitting in the Priory parking lot, the light pitter patter of raindrops falling on my car was very soothing. It was clear that something had to change in my life, but I didn’t know what. “God, what are you calling me to do?” No answer. God usually didn’t have a habit of giving me answers when I wanted them but when it was the right time for me to receive them. It was time to take to heart the quote above. Be still and let love discover me.
Most people I meet have the wrong idea about silent retreats. They seem to think we transform into mute monks who do not speak a single word the entire retreat. When given the chance, explaining usually clears up the confusion. This silent retreat and all the others I have attended are not completely silent. We have speakers providing talks on retreat-specific-topics throughout the weekend. Once a day we have a session with a spiritual director. These sessions provide us an opportunity to bounce questions, ideas and thoughts about the talks and our personal reflections. Outside of those periods we are in silence. Beautiful silence.
Up until attending a silent retreat, I would have emphatically shared with anyone willing to listen that silent retreats were not for me and I would never go on one. This is the guy who couldn’t be quiet for more than three hours, let alone off and on for 3 days. No way! Much to my surprise, the first silent retreat I attended was relatively enjoyable. And the next one was actually enjoyable. Each one built on the previous one, allowing me to embrace the silence and relish the time away. A place where the noise, chaos and constant demands for my time were washed away in a sea of quiet. My daily life was usually a dull roar of busyness that didn’t allow me to hear Christ’s quiet whisper. Each day my spirit would draw closer to Christ and a rarely-felt peace and serenity would enter more deeply. This allowed Christ’s quiet whisper to be heard more clearly, feeding me with spiritual nourishment and joy. These yearly silent retreats were becoming essential elements of my life. Attending one in January was a great opportunity to reflect and also look ahead at the coming year. Focusing on seeing the upcoming year through God’s eyes and discerning His will for my life. . .