Have you ever watched a movie or sitcom in which someone has a loud, emotional outburst in a noisy and crowded restaurant, and then suddenly realizes everyone in the entire place has gotten silent and is staring at him? Or one in which someone is alone, having a lively conversation with himself while engrossed in some mundane chore, and then he looks up to find a room full of people watching and listening to him? Or worse, he sees only one person – the one he was just talking about.

I’ve been thinking about people like that lately, and I have this nagging fear that I may soon become one of them.

In a few weeks I’m going to be spending several days at a religious retreat, and I’m a bit nervous about it. Not about the whole retreat, just the silent part.

This isn’t a silent retreat, as are some in which there is no talking practically from the time you arrive until you leave days – or even weeks – later. I have some friends who have done this type of silent retreat, and they have said that even though they had some doubts and apprehensions ahead of time, they came back transformed. It was a profound and powerful experience, and a practice they intended to continue.

The retreat I’m going to is nothing like that, and actually will involve a number of presentations and discussions. But there’s a silent prayer and reflection period that goes from the first night to the following morning.

The reason I’m so nervous about the silent part of the retreat is that I’m afraid I’ll inadvertently break it – and in the process, disturb the dozen or so people around me who are deeply immersed in the silence and in their own thoughts and prayers.

As a writer, I already spend a great deal of time alone and in silence. During that time, I’m wrapped up in my own thoughts and reflections as I gather and process the words I want to use to express them. Often, deep in thought, I catch myself saying them out loud. In a whisper, usually, but still out loud. And if something I’m writing about or reflecting on makes me think of a line from a song – which happens more often than you might expect – the song will sometimes get stuck in my head, and I’ll find myself humming or singing it later on.

This is not a problem when I’m alone. It could be, however, when I’m with a group of people – especially people who are busy being silent. That’s when I’d feel like one of those people in the movies, looking up to realize that I’ve said or sung something out loud without even realizing it, and everyone is watching.

I have to admit this isn’t really a problem that’s keeping me up at night. And in spite of my concerns, I’m actually looking forward to the silent part of the retreat. I’m sure it will open my eyes and my heart, and will fill me with new discoveries and revelations. If so, I’ll tell you all about it in a future column.

Unless I decide it’s better to stay silent.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on July 16, 2015.
©Betty Liedtke, 2015

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