The Sounds of Silence

I’m a pretty extroverted person. I like talking. I like listening to others. I enjoy sharing conversation and laughter. So, when I learned back in August that JVC would hold a mandatory Ignation (read: Silent) Retreat, I was pretty nervous.

Ignatian Retreats, the longest being 30 days, have been a Jesuit tradition since the order’s early days, and have been a way for people to become closer to God through silent reflection, meditation, discernment, and prayer.

Ours was 40 hours long at the Loyola House of Retreats in Morristown, New Jersey. JVC provided us with various activities including prayer services, an all-night Peace Vigil, meditation, and yoga and resources like spiritual direction, books on personal growth, and prayers, but, otherwise, we were on our own in silence.

Like I said, at first, I was really nervous about spending so much time in silence, but the retreat actually came at the perfect time for me. I haven’t exactly been overwhelmed lately, but I’ve definitely been “whelmed” with community obligations, friends, work, and some big decisions coming regarding my future.

The retreat gave me time to bring God back into my life and my decision-making.

I was able to meet with my spiritual director for the weekend, Toni Moore-Duggan (from Baltimore, incidentally), twice during retreat for help in the best ways to reach out to God and listen. She advised that I think of God as a friend, rather than a judge, within me, who is continually reaching for me, guiding me, and talking to me. After that, praying and talking with God, rather than at or to God, became infinitely easier for me. I began praying out loud and started and ended my conversations with God with a specific prayer. It kept me focused and more able to listen.

Did I come away with all the answers? No. Am I now spiritually enlightened? No. Those things will take some more time to figure out.

I did, however, learn how to bring the G-man into my decisions and my every day- simply by looking, listening, and feeling.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Let us be silent that we may hear the whisper of God.”

How and where do you hear God? How do you reach out? Have you ever been on a silent retreat before? How was your experience?


12 Responses to The Sounds of Silence

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tom O'Keefe, Stephen Spiewak. Stephen Spiewak said: Clearly, @TomOKeefe1 is the man. Check out his reflection on the value of silence: #jesuit […]

  2. Kristina says:

    I like this. And Mr. Emerson. He is kind of my hero. I wish we were still on retreat! Alas, reality has its place too, I suppose…

  3. Katie says:

    I love this, Tom!

    As someone who recently had some life occurrences that have made me want to “bring God back into my life and my decision-making” I think this is a great idea!

    There are always sooo many little things that can distract me from prayer – things that I don’t even consider distractions because I have prioritized them before spending time with God.

    But this reminds me of a sermon I heard a year or so ago where the priest talked about how we make things “priorities” when if you look up the definition of “priority” it should be clear that you can only have one…I think that I might have to follow in your footsteps and try to disconnect to refocus on what my *priority* should be

    And like you said – I know it’s not a quick fix and it won’t magically be better, but I think that it would be a great reminder/a great way to prove to myself that I don’t *need* the distractions! 🙂

    Great post as always!!!

    • Tom O'Keefe says:

      Thanks KT and I’m glad you liked this!

      I was finding that I was distracted even when I was praying, going “off topic” and never really finishing it. I needed to go back to making intentional prayer time.

      And the sermon you heard, spot on and so true. What are our true priorities in life? It’s becoming a big part of my decision-making for the future, I can tell you that much!

      Thanks for commenting and remember that all relationships take work!

  4. MOM says:

    Silence can be a powerful means of enlightenment. If it helps complete a thought, an intention, a moment of inspiration or a prayer, then it has worked. You had a wonderful opportunity to focus on your inner self, do some thinking and just pray. Good for you, it takes discipline to be quiet and it really is OK to talk to just yourself! I have solved many an issue talking to myself, I’ve also offered many prayers out-loud and all by myself to my guardian angels and God. Seems they are always listening when I am quiet.

    • Tom O'Keefe says:

      They *are* always listening. Sometimes it takes silence for us to hear them speaking back to us. I’ve definitely become more comfortable with silence this year. It’s something that can create clarity, and hear something more.

      Thanks, Mum!

  5. doug says:

    Hey Tom – I volunteered in Newark in 1993-94…I was not a great fan of silent retreat, but then again I was probably the lone non_Catholic in JVC so the whole retreat thing was new for me. But that’s not what caused me to write here. I actually was trying to find out if the current B-more house is where it was when I was in JVC and when I put ‘JVC Baltimore house history’ into google this came up. Anyway that house was right across from Patterson Park, where I spent a lovely spring evening while the rest of the JVC partied at the house. Me, I loved hanging in the Park. And years later when I got into the Wire, Patterson Park and my long forgotten Saturday evening stroll in east Baltimore took on new and special meaning…especially when I got Snoop’s book and saw that she lived like two blocks from there. And I see you are a Wire aficinado as well so if you can help me out – tell me the house is still there, tell me it’s still there…if not I need to know what Wire famous locations you guys are near nowadays.

    peace, and enjoy the remainder of your JVC year.


    • Tom O'Keefe says:

      Hi Doug,

      I’m glad you came across my blog! It’s so great to hear from FJV’s and hear about their experiences.

      The Baltimore JV “Arrupe House” has moved a few times since it was near Patterson Park. Now, we’re about 2-3 miles northwest of Patterson Park in an area called Charles Village.

      Our community still has a connection with Patterson Park, however. My work site, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, is 3 blocks from Patterson Park and the school’s athletic teams use those fields for practices and games.

      I’ll have to pick up Snoop’s book. I love all things Wire!

      Thanks again for stopping by!


  6. Doug says:

    Thanks for the reply Tom – I figured JVC had probably moved out of that big old rectory building – it was pretty rough…which is why I liked it as a visitor! I remember hearing the name of the Charles Village area in the Wire as well. Nice to see you know Patterson Park. I waited five seasons for a mention of the park and finally got it in the scene where Burrell is cleaning out his office in the last season. Thanks for the 411. Snoop’s book by the way is called Grace After Midnight – you can probably read it in a day or so, it is all Snoop. According to the book, she lived on Oliver and Montford.

    Thanks again – and enjoy the rest of your year –


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