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Reflections from The Hermitage: A Guided Silent Retreat

Listen Here:

Mother Teresa once said,

“Listen in silence, because if your heart is full of other things, you cannot hear the Voice of God.”

In April of this year, I felt an invitation from the Lord to practice a regular rhythm of silence, whether that be 5 or 10 minutes of centering prayer or 20 minutes of sitting contemplatively in silence with the Holy Spirit as I enjoyed His company and He mine. I have found silence to be a sort of homecoming for me. An invitation to come as I am and rest in God and learn to simply just be.

It’s become a space for me where my soul is able to breathe a little deeper, my heart growing lighter, as I am filled with the fullness of the Love of God.

So when my spiritual director mentioned to me this past summer that she would be hosting a guided silent retreat in October, I felt a deep desire to go and be silent before God in community with others. And that’s exactly what my husband and I did, and it was a deeply rich experience that neither one of us will ever forget.

Today, I’m sharing with you my written reflections on my personal experience as I ventured into my first-ever guided silent retreat. So, if you have ever wondered about silent retreating but haven’t dipped your toes in the water for fear of the unknown, or if you feel drawn to silence but don’t know where to begin or why it would be beneficial for you, I think this post will be a great help to you today.

My prayer is that these reflections of mine would act as a guide, outlining what it might be like for you to enter into a similar experience.

I’ll be sharing with you an overview of my experience, what stirred within my soul on retreat, what the Lord revealed, and major highlights that were especially profound for me.

With that being said, let’s jump right into my reflections from The Hermitage.

The Beginning

It was an unusually warm Friday in October as my husband and I pulled into the long gravel drive leading us to The Hermitage; a Christian contemplative retreat center nestled cozily in 62 acres of beautiful rolling hills and wooded trails in Three Rivers, Michigan. 

Max and I were going to be led into silence along with 11 other strangers for 48 hours as we all sought refreshment and stillness in the quiet Love of God’s presence. 

This retreat was coming at the perfect time for me because I was down to the soul tired. I was weary from life’s demands as well as my own striving and I arrived with a longing in my heart to slow down, rest, and just be with Abba. 

Truthfully, the past year had been long and difficult, and my soul was yearning for the silence that awaited me. 

As other retreatants slowly filed in, one car carrying a weary passenger after another, we all eventually gathered together in a circle trading names and places of origin. We made small talk and settled into a comfortable sense of belonging, brought together by Divine purpose and tied together by the desire to be still in the Divine’s presence. 

After about fifteen minutes of this, my spiritual director, Deb, who was leading us in our silent weekend, took us on a tour of the lovely grounds and then made sure we were all situated in our rooms. Max and I chose to bunk in separate rooms in order to respect the silence and be alone with God, seeking Him together but individually, too. 

My room was cozy, quaint, and ever so lovely. It was located in a loft in an old barn that The Hermitage had repurposed into living quarters. From what I could tell, it held 5 rooms, and although I’m probably biased, mine felt like the best of them all. It was small but comfortable, with a double bed, a desk and chair, a comfy armchair, and a nightstand that held some good books. There were two windows, one of which was located on the far wall opposite the door and gave the most beautiful view of the sunrise peeking through tall pine trees. 

What I especially loved was the small painting that was hung above my bed, holding the invitation to come and rest from Matthew 11:29,Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” This passage has been given to me over and over again by the Lord in this season of my life, inviting me to learn how to live from a place of rest rather than working toward it. 

This small painting served as further confirmation that I was right where I was supposed to be. God is so good in the way He speaks to us through so many different people, places, and things. Our only job is to be attentive to them as they come and hold out our hands to receive them fully. This thought brings to mind my friend and fellow writer, Kari Bartkus’ wise words, 

“God communicates in so many more ways than just words.”

On the desk in my quaint, cozy room was a tiny, wooden handheld cross that became an anchor for me all weekend. I took it with me everywhere I went, and it was a sacred reminder of God’s presence with me as I sought Him in silence. There were also tealights that I was free to light, which I did both nights that I spent in that lovely little room. 

After we all got situated in our rooms, we met for dinner in the dining room which just happened to be on the lower level of where I was to sleep. Entering the kitchen felt like basking in the glow of a freshly lit fire. It was warm, inviting, and peaceful, and my eyes were instantly drawn to the giant oak table that held oil lamps and enough space to seat us all comfortably. 

A handmade wooden sign was nailed to the door as you walked in granting you its own kind of blessing, “Peace to all who enter here.”

I would come to realize that peace was the common undercurrent that seemed to follow us everywhere we went while at The Hermitage. 

We went into silence together a short time after dinner and didn’t come out of it until Sunday at noon. The only expectations for us were to remain silent, to give God a chance to speak to and work in our hearts and souls as we waited patiently for His sweet presence to make Himself known. There was a schedule that Deb put together, with options to engage in a contemplative sit on Saturday morning, practice restorative yoga, and sit in on reflections that she would share from books such as To Bless the Space Between Us by John O’Donohue and Becoming Rooted by Randy Woodley, among others. 

But we were not required to do any of it. We were invited to join in on everything but were encouraged to go as the Spirit led. To be, to rest, to saturate ourselves in the sacredness of the Spirit’s silence. 

Before arriving at The Hermitage, the Lord gave me a breath prayer to hold onto for the weekend from Psalm 31:5, Into your hands, Abba, I commit my spirit;” As well as a question to hold onto. The same question Jesus had asked a blind beggar named Bartimeus from Mark 10:46-52, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51)

Truthfully, I didn’t know how to answer His question right away. All I knew is that I wanted to let go, surrender, and allow Him to guide our time together. So I continued to hold the question. I’m still holding it even as I write these reflections. 

At first, the silence was a bit intimidating. We were all encouraged to turn off our phones or at least put them on airplane mode as a way of truly disconnecting from the world and quieting our souls in Jesus. What a reminder it was for me that He really is all I need. Once I settled into my own rhythm of silence with Abba, it quickly became for me like coming home to a language I forgot I knew how to speak. 

It washed over me like a fresh rainfall, both cleansing, and healing. 

That first night in my room was spent reading from The Celtic Daily Prayer Book in candlelight. Here, I continued to return to a poem, An Invocation of the Holy Spirit, for the rest of my time at The Hermitage. This poem became my own prayer.

Most powerful Holy Spirit,

Come down

Upon us

And subdue us. 

From Heaven, where the ordinary

Is made glorious, 

And the glory seems

But ordinary,

Bathe us 

With the brilliance 

Of Your light 

Like dew. 

The Contemplative Sit 

The next morning was Saturday and I woke early, eager and nervous to greet the day of Silence ahead of me. After getting myself ready, I decided to attend what Deb called a contemplative sit which was offered in the chapel from 8-8:30 every morning except on Sundays. 

What they referred to as “the chapel” was really just a spacious room inside the building next to the repurposed barn and kitchen. The room held what looked like wooden school desks, the old-fashioned kind that included a salmon-colored cushioned seat with a tiny desk already attached to it. The chairs with the desks attached to them were situated in a circle, and when I arrived, there were only three other people in the room, none of which were a part of my cohort of retreatants. 

They were strangers to me, all of them. 

The leader of the contemplative sit rose quietly to light an oil lamp and a candle, and then he sat down and directed us toward the small Psalters that were on our desks. I learned there that Psalters hold the book of Psalms, and that’s it. 

The man leading us read Psalm 122, inviting us to read out loud with him the second line of each verse as he read the first on his own. Once the reading was done, he invited us to get into a comfortable position, close our eyes, and quiet our hearts and minds to be with the Holy Spirit. Soon, the gentle sound of a gong sounded, and we were sent into 20 minutes of silence together. 

I must admit that at first, I felt very intimidated by these people. I could tell by their comfortable demeanor that they had engaged in this type of sitting in community in silence together with the Lord before, while I had not. What rose within was a funny thing, because it would’ve looked ridiculous. But my immediate instinct was to run away. To grab my shoes – because we were instructed to remove them from our feet upon entering the chapel room – and run away from what felt uncomfortable and unfamiliar. 

Oh, how familiar though I am with that particular running-scared feeling. 

But what the contemplative sit taught me, and what the entire weekend taught me, was that when I choose to enter into something new and unknown with the Spirit, I always come away better for it. 

I always come away looking more like Jesus and feeling more like myself. 

And that’s exactly what happened as my mind slowly started to settle into the communal silence. How awesome it was to realize that each of us was alone with and resting in the Holy Spirit while being together in the same room. It was truly a sacred experience and one that I will never forget. 

God placed in my mind Psalm 46:10 as I sat contemplatively in the silence, “Be still and know that I am God.” I meditated on that truth when I felt my mind begin to wander away from God. Sometimes, that meditation looked like breaking down the verse in bits and pieces as a sort of returning to the presence of the Sacred.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

“Be still and know that I am.”

“Be still and know.”

“Be still.”


Again, nothing was required during this prayer time, no striving or doing, or working was needed. We were invited to sit in silence together with the Spirit, and that was it. We were to practice doing what looked like nothing while the Holy Spirit tended to our souls. There was a deep calling to deep as written in Psalm 42:7 that was happening inside us all that was both a mystery and our truest reality. 

Once the 20 minutes of silence ended, we all gently came out of it together, rousing from our relaxed bodies as we exited the room more whole and full people. I think practicing contemplative prayer is one very real way one can experience the fullness of God, and what it means to be rooted and established in Love. 

That contemplative sit set the foundation for the rest of my day, filling me with peace and grounding me in my own body. And I was so thankful to have experienced something so deep and ethereal alone with God, but in community with other God-seekers. 

The Prayer Labyrinth on Saturday 

From there, I sat in on a short morning reflection that Deb read from one of her books and then engaged in some restorative yoga that was held outside under the breeze and beauty of tall October trees. 

I’m not used to forms of exercise that are slow and meant to restore your body. I only know the kind that destroys for a moment so you can feel stronger later. Here in this slow practice of yoga, I found my breath and I found myself filled with yet again a deep peace. I was gentle with my body, listening to what I needed rather than what I thought I should be doing. It was life-giving. 

After yoga, Max and I silently went in search of one of the prayer labyrinths that The Hermitage housed. I wasn’t familiar with labyrinths until I arrived, and it ended up being one of the major practices that I felt overwhelmingly drawn to. I learned that prayer labyrinths are often in the shape of giant circles with one path in and one path out, that path leading to a center. 

Labyrinths represent the winding path of life, the spiritual journey, and how God faithfully guides His people forward. The center of the labyrinth represents the center of your soul as hidden in God; your truest self. You’re invited to walk the labyrinth at your own speed, preferably slowly, as you pray, meditate on a Scripture passage, or simply be in silence with God. As you arrive at the center, you’re encouraged to pause, practice gratitude for how God has faithfully led you in the labyrinth and in life, and spend as much time here as you would like communing with the Spirit and reflecting

Then, when you’re ready, you make the journey back out again, walking slowly with God as you go. 

What I found to be most intriguing about labyrinths is that from the outside they look like a maze. But they’re not, simply because mazes have dead ends and tricky ways of turning you all about. A labyrinth has one way forward that takes you straight to center; no dead ends, and no tricks, so you can relax and enjoy and simply go where the path is leading you. 

What a metaphor for a life truly surrendered to God. 

I ended up walking this labyrinth twice; once with my husband in silence and again on Sunday morning alone before we went home, which I’ll reflect on later in this letter. But I think what drew me most to the labyrinth is this deep inner desire to be carried along the path of life by the Breath of Life; by the Holy Spirit. To let go of control, which I so commonly cling to, and surrender to the path before me. 

“What do you want me to do for you?”

“Into Your hands, Abba, I commit my spirit.” (Psalm 31:5)

I know now that this breath prayer gave words to a very real and rooted longing. The longing to live from a place of rest rather than work toward it. A longing to let go rather than live from a place of striving and controlling. The past year has been full of fear and control, and I’m weary of living and reacting from that place. 

Again, as it was with the contemplative sit, walking the labyrinth felt awkward at first. I kept thinking about what I was supposed to be doing, what the “spiritual” thing to do in this labyrinth would be. But soon, I heard the Holy Spirit’s gentle voice inviting me to be still and know. To be still and know that I am invited to come as I am, to surrender to His leading, and just rest in His presence and be. 

Soon, I found myself home in a new rhythm of walking with God as I allowed Him to gently lead me to the center of the labyrinth and back out again. As I walked, I often recited Psalm 23 in my mind, meditating on the words or phrases that struck a chord with me. From there, I prayed, I listened, and I took in the beauty all around me. But most of all, I chose to be led rather than leading. 

Max and I arrived at the center together, and I felt for the first time in a long time, a centering in myself happening. Each of us took up space in the center of the labyrinth, Max lying down on his back to let the sun warm his face as I sat cross-legged with my backpack and my journal, reflecting on my experience. 

This was the beginning of a deeper longing surfacing. The longing to come Home. 

A side-note blessing; the grounds of The Hermitage hold two labyrinths. And I got to walk both of them with my husband. The first one was on purpose, but with the second one, we sort of ran into each other as we were both out walking on Saturday evening after dinner and silently motioned the other forward, signaling that we wanted to walk this one together, too. 

Labyrinths represent the long and winding path of life, and I got to walk both with my husband; the partner God gave me to walk the long and winding path of life with. That was one of many gifts the Lord gave me that weekend. Probably one of my favorites. 

A Map, a Prayer Garden, & a Red Dragonfly 

On the first evening there, we were all handed a folder that contained our schedule and a map of The Hermitage and all the trails you could get yourself lost in. It showed you how to get to the labyrinths, the stone chapel, and the different prayer gardens that The Hermitage held. There was one prayer garden in particular that I wanted to venture into after I walked the labyrinth for the first time with Max on Saturday afternoon. 

I was intimidated to brave the woods on my own, having always told myself that I’m directionally challenged. But in walking those woods in solitude with Jesus, with nothing but my map and His Spirit to guide me, I realized that I really don’t give myself enough credit, or rather, the Spirit in me. And that when I choose to self-deprecate, I’m self-deprecating the Spirit that lives within me. 

Because I arrived at the prayer garden just fine, following the map, and the direction it provided me… on my own, with God guiding me. It was proof that I can be brave, I can step into the unknown and find my way, and that always and forever, God is enough. 

The prayer garden was housed on a small hill that overlooked the prairie filled with all sorts of buzzing insects and long, golden grasses. The trees were bright orange and red in the background and the weather was warm and breezy. I was sweating a bit from my journey and decided to take my seat in the wooden chair that sat next to a wooden bench that could’ve sat two comfortably. 

I always had my backpack with me everywhere I went, carrying my Bible, journal, pen, and various books I had brought with me for the weekend. As I sat in that prayer garden, the familiar pang of needing to know what was expected of me in this silence threatened to overcome me; evidence of my worth still rooted in my own striving. 

But again, the Holy Spirit spoke gently, laced with loving kindness that sounded like honey. 

“Just be here with me, Beloved. Come as you are.”

The invitation to come as I am was offered to me again and again over the course of my time at The Hermitage. I’m beginning to realize that this invitation extends to all places and seasons of life, at all times, not just at retreat centers. 

What a simple invitation but a hard thing to practice. 

As I sat in that prayer garden, shaded from the warm October sun by trees overhead, I reached for my Becoming Rooted devotional by Randy Woodley. This devotional book leads you through 100 days of reconnecting with sacred earth by learning Native American traditions and values. Before reading this book, I had no idea how gentle, loving, and generous of a people Native Americans are. I had no idea that as a community and culture, they model the loving heart of Jesus so well. They have a deep love for the earth and everything in it, referring to God as Great Mystery, the One who is within all things. 

The more I read about their culture, the more I realize that their values closely line up with my own; an unknown people becoming known to me. 

In reaching for my copy of Becoming Rooted, I read an excerpt in the prayer garden that felt like its own liturgy. Randy Woodley writes, 

“Having first recognized everything else around me, I better understand my near unimportance. I am just a simple man standing in a great world. To be standing on this Earth is a gift. Everything around me is real. Everything is spirit-filled. I am fully and physically present, but even more, I am spirit.

Take time today to find comfort in your smallness, and let prayer remind you of your place on sacred earth.”

Let prayer remind you of your place on sacred earth. 

And there it was again, the same longing that surfaced in the center of the prayer labyrinth, bubbling up and out of my soul like soda pop. The longing to come Home to God and Home to my truest self. To detach from my false self – the lies, insecurities, expectations, and striving – and attach to my authentic self; my God-given Belovedness. I admittedly arrived at The Hermitage with hints of this longing, but as I walked the prayer labyrinth that morning and sat in the prayer garden that same afternoon, the longing to come Home just grew wider and wider, deeper and deeper, rooting itself into every part of me. 

The prayer garden is where I began to physically feel my whole being settle into the Spirit’s Silence and settle into my true self. The prayer garden is where my deep longing came alive. 

Earlier that morning, during our reflection time with Deb, she encouraged us to look for something – anything – an animal, a bug, a plant, that God might use to speak to us through. To become attentive to what the Spirit may be saying through Sacred Earth. Because as Randy Woodley says, everything is Spirit-filled. And as I sat in that prayer garden praying to be more wholly His, a red dragonfly landed on a leaf right at my feet. 

He lingered there a few moments before flying away, but not before I snapped a quick picture of him. Later, when I would return to my room, I allowed myself to Google the meaning of a red dragonfly. And my heart raced and filled with thanks as I read that dragonflies symbolize transformation and change. 

But red dragonflies are considered very sacred in some cultures, representing courage, strength, and happiness. Native Americans believe the red dragonfly can “bring a time of rejuvenation after a long period of trials and hardship.”

That’s what The Hermitage was for me; rejuvenation after a long period of trials and hardship. An open door leading me to rest, refreshment, and a new beginning. 

The prayer garden was where God sent me the red dragonfly, at least the first one. I saw him again the second time I walked the prayer labyrinth on my way out on the last day at The Hermitage. A reminder that as I left this holy place, I was stepping into a new threshold. 

A Coming Home: A Poem Written from the Prayer Garden

Silence waters the soul, yes. 

But it’s also a coming Home. 

A coming Home to Sacred Earth. 

A coming Home to the present moment. 

A coming Home to God,

And a coming Home to your truest self. 

Silent Meals & The Way We Left Connected 

The food at The Hermitage was homemade and delicious, and their hospitality was unmatched. Everything was vegetarian, and I didn’t notice myself longing for meat one bit because of how tasty it all was. As a community of faith wanderers and silence-seekers, we shared three silent meals together. The other two were spent outside of silence, in discussion and reflection with one another. 

The meals eaten in silence were my favorite, and although I anticipated them to feel a bit awkward like everything else had at first, they ended up feeling the most like home. They felt the most familiar and natural. In the kitchen of The Hermitage there on the fridge reads a quote from Margaret Feinberg which says, “Food is God’s Love made edible.” 

The verse that came to mind every time I read it was Matthew 6:11, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

They’re very similar, that quote and this verse. They both place faith in the Giver to provide what is needed; an outpouring of His Love to His Beloved children. Food and truth needed for each day. They’re both prayers and blessings in their own right and they both remind us that there is much to be gained by eating the food placed on a table in community with others. Even in the community of silence. 

Jesus’ presence sat down at the table with us each time, which is why I know eating together in silence felt so familiar. 

Each mealtime would begin with a blessing over the meal, whether in the form of a prayer crafted by the hands who prepared the food or a blessing read from a book of blessings. That’s another thing I learned on this silent retreat; that borrowing other peoples’ words and prayers from books is a wonderful way to name your own longings and hold them up to Abba. 

After the food was blessed, we would line up and serve ourselves buffet style. Each meal included a fresh spinach salad with peppers, tomatoes, and olives that came straight from The Hermitage garden. Then, once we all had our plates, we would sit and eat together in silence. 

What I noticed most about these silent meals is that I’m usually a very fast eater. But here, in the silence and holy hush of it all, I naturally found a slower pace. And in finding a slower pace of eating, I found a savoring that I didn’t know was possible. Everything, every taste, was heightened. I could taste the bitterness of the spinach coupled with the sweet tanginess of the vinaigrette dressing. 

The gluten-free bread felt dry until the butter was applied and then it turned to heaven in my mouth. The chickpea curry was spicy, with a hint of sweetness, and I realized that it’s the hints of sweetness we miss amidst the hurry of everyday life. Everything was sweet, savory, and delicious and it felt like I was tasting food for the first time; every bite was chewed slowly and thoughtfully because nobody had anything to say or anywhere to be but right where we were. 

And because of this, we were able to be fully present to our meals and to each other’s presence, basking in the right now of the moment rather than thinking about what came next. 

Until that one weekend in October at The Hermitage, I had no idea how strongly silence and community could coexist; how profoundly they could complement each other. The silence over the entire weekend, especially these silent meals, connected us in an otherworldly sort of way. Not a word was spoken between us, but a sacred friendship was formed amongst us all, the kind that runs strong and true. 

Candles & Oil Lamps

“Because of your great compassion, you did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud did not fail to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take.” (Nehemiah 9:19)

Did you know that there are over 34 verses in the Bible about God appearing to His people through the element of fire? I didn’t either until I Googled it. And the reason I Googled it is because one thing amongst many that I felt so drawn to during my time at The Hermitage was the candles and the oil lamps. They were everywhere, in every room. 

During mealtimes, an oil lamp was always lit at the center of the dining table. 

They were lit during my contemplative sit on Saturday morning and available in every room to be lit as you wished. Deb would light them in the mornings before reading an early morning reflection, and I would light the tealights in my bedroom every night while winding down from my day. 

The lighting of the candles and oil lamps was just a regular rhythm at The Hermitage, a normal part of everyday life. 

There was something so peaceful about lighting a candle or an oil lamp, gazing at its beauty in silence for a while, and then praying or reading a book as its glow kept you company. 

Biblically, fire represents the presence of the Holy Spirit, and that’s what I would think every time a candle or oil lamp was lit. These objects didn’t have to be lit in order for God’s presence to be in the room, because He was already there with us. But the candles and oil lamps were physical reminders, much like my little wooden handheld cross I carried with me everywhere, that God was present. We humans sometimes forget the nature of our very near God and how His presence is with us everywhere we go and in everything that we do. 

I think that’s why He appeared sometimes to the Israelites in the form of fire because no one can look away from its captivating warmth once it has your attention, much like His Love. And I think that’s why campfires and candles and oil lamps are so calming for us, too. They remind us that God is always drawing near and that He never stops. 

In fact, I believe He’s usually a lot closer than we might realize. 

On my return home to Indiana, as Max drove and I sat in the passenger seat, I ordered an oil lamp. It’s handmade, molded straight from the earth’s clay, and it’s rugged and smooth all at once. I love it and I light it every morning during my prayer time and every evening while we eat dinner. This alone has become a sacred practice for me because with each light of the oil lamp, I remember to pause and give thanks to the God who draws near and lights my path, gently leading me forward. 

The Prayer Labyrinth on Sunday & My Own Contemplative Sit

Time at The Hermitage passed differently than time out in the real, busy world. Everything was slower, more relaxed, and less structured. It was magical, like stepping into Narnia for 48 hours. And when Sunday morning came, I woke feeling sad that saying goodbye to this sacred place and these forever friends was quickly approaching. 

As I got ready for the day, I wrestled with how I wanted to spend my last morning. Part of me wanted to go back to the prayer garden that I had discovered the day before, but then another part of me wanted to go back to the labyrinth that I had walked with Max the first morning there. Deb’s wisdom to us upon arrival, as well as my own breath prayer, was to go where the Spirit led. 

“Into Your hands, Abba, I commit my spirit.” 

So I listened to that Sacred leading within me, and I packed my bag and went to the prayer labyrinth again. I was alone, everyone mostly had already walked it and probably decided it took up far too much time to walk it a second time. It takes about an hour to walk in and back out again, allotting enough time to sit and pause in the center. 

As I approached the opening of the labyrinth, a thin black iron arch marked the threshold of the beginning. Before entering, I paused at the threshold this time, closed my eyes, and rested there. It felt very symbolic of how I was being invited to enter into a new beginning in my own personal and spiritual life. After giving thanks to God for this new threshold, I set off on my journey through the prayer labyrinth a second time. 

I found my pace to be a lot slower this time, my body, mind, and soul much more settled into their own way of being silent before God. I walked at His pace, recited Psalm 23 and meditated on its sacred words, and rested in the warmth and beauty of creation all around me. As I arrived at the center, I had planned to sit down and read or possibly journal. But instead, as I sat down on the soft ground, I felt the Holy Spirit inviting me to eat with Him. 

Surprised, I reached for my backpack and took out the baggie of apples, a granola bar, and the water thermos that I had packed. The Spirit’s invitation was one of communion and rest as I ate my apples slowly, taking in the scene around me. 

Trees alive and bright with yellow, red, and orange leaves swaying in the light October breeze. Tall golden grasses held small finches and buzzing insects. The sky was a cerulean blue and the sun was unusually warm for that time of year. But I didn’t mind. Its warmth on my face was a welcomed blessing. 

In that moment, as I continued taking in the gift of creation around me, I was struck by how much we probably miss because of our inability to be attentive to the present moment. Most of us think that there’s no time for sitting on the ground, eating apples with God, but I found that doing so made my day seem bigger and fuller, not smaller and scarcer. 

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

After my snack, I decided to engage in my own contemplative sit, sounding the gong on my Centering Prayer app on my phone. I sat with the Lord in silence, resting in His presence, for 20 minutes as I would’ve that morning in the chapel had they offered it on Sundays. The words that I kept hearing from the Lord during my silent sitting were from Jeremiah 29:14, “I will be found by you”, declares the Lord…” and Joshua 1:9, “I will be with you wherever you go.”

I will be with you. 

That promise was like a slow filling, a coming Home all on its own. A coming Home to Love and a coming Home to myself. As I search for God, I will find Him – and the more I find God the more I find my truest self hidden within God. I’m learning in this season of my life that my soul and the spirit of God are very much one and the same. I am not God, but God resides in my soul – He crafted it, molded it, and calls it good – making me a temple for His glory and evidence of His Love and wonder. 

Making Him closer to me than I am to myself. 

Perhaps this is what means to be the Imago Dei, the Image-Bearers of Christ; coming Home to the very person Christ calls us to be – the Beloved – and living from that place of belonging and Love. 

After my contemplative sit, I journaled, and a honey bee lightly landed on my pen for a few moments before fluttering away. Honeybees, I’ve read, are evidence that the Divine is near. And as I gathered my things preparing to make the journey back out of the labyrinth, a red dragonfly greeted me just as I reached the threshold. 

I echo Randy Woodley’s words here again in saying that everything is Spirit-filled. 

Our Last Meal, a Rock, and a Feather 

Together, we broke the silence at noon on Sunday as we all gathered to eat our final meal together at The Hermitage. A blessing was said, a prayer was spoken, and then we all went around the table sharing our experiences and what stirred most within us over the past 48 hours in silence with God. For me, I shared what I have been repeatedly saying throughout my reflections, that The Hermitage to me felt like a coming Home to God and to myself. 

I felt grounded and inside my own body – present to each moment as it came – for the first time in a long time. I learned how to be where my feet were, not where they wanted to be next. I noticed joy, gratitude, and peace welling up like a spring within my soul for no other reason than God was near. And as I said before, Silence for me was like coming home to a language I forgot I knew how to speak. 

It was also about listening; a deep sacred listening to the Spirit and to my own soul. 

The Lord is teaching me that the true definition of wholeness is learning how to be at Home in the Spirit no matter where I am; how to be my truest self no matter the crowd, timing, season, or place. 

The Hermitage felt like a gentle sloughing away of some of the dead, old, false parts of my soul to make room for the attaching of true, lovely, wholesome, and heavenly things. 

A friend I made that weekend, who regularly sat next to me during mealtimes, shared that what she learned was that we can be with God in this sort of sacred, intimate way anytime we want to be, not only at The Hermitage. We can be putting on our makeup, driving in our cars, watching our favorite shows, or taking the trash out and God is as present there as He is here. 

That to me is the definition of a truly contemplative life; a life spent pursuing the presence of God in all things, in all places, and in all people. A life spent beholding the glory of God in the mundane, sacred moments of the ordinary everyday. 

After we all ate and talked and reflected, we gathered one last time in the building where the chapel room is. Upon entering, there on the ground in a circle were rocks in all different shapes and sizes, and textures. Outside the rocks, were bird feathers. Deb shared one final reflection and then we were invited to choose a rock, and if we felt led to, write one word that described how we felt after engaging in the silent guided retreat together. 

My word was grounded

The rock is meant to be a physical reminder of our journey at The Hermitage together, of what the Lord did during those sacred, holy moments of silence. And the feather is to serve as a token of blessing into a new beginning, a new journey. 

With our rock and feather in hand, we listened to one last blessing from Deb read from the book, To Bless the Space Between Us, by John O’Donohue; A Blessing for a New Beginning. The same blessing that I printed out and taped into my journal weeks before the retreat. 

A Blessing for a New Beginning by John O’Donohue 

In out-of-the-way places of the heart, 

Where your thoughts never think to wander, 

This beginning has been quietly forming, 

Waiting until you were ready to emerge. 

For a long time it has watched your desire, 

Feeling the emptiness growing inside you, 

Noticing how you willed yourself on, 

Still unable to leave what you had outgrown. 

It watched you play with the seduction of safety 

And the gray promises that sameness whispered, 

Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent, 

Wondered would you always live like this. 

Then the delight, when your courage kindled, 

And out you stepped onto new ground, 

Your eyes young again with energy and dream, 

A path of plenitude opening before you. 

Though your destination is not yet clear 

You can trust the promise of this opening; 

Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning 

That is at one with your life’s desire. 

Awaken your spirit to adventure; 

Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk; 

Soon you will be home in a new rhythm, 

For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

Return Slowly 

And then, just like that, it was time to return home. It was time to return to the busyness of everyday life outside of The Hermitage. 

We all gathered outside, suitcases and bags in hand, hugging each other and wishing one another well as we promised to stay in touch. Max and I clambered into our car, feeling both light and heavy; light due to what we had just experienced together and heavy because we had to leave this sacred place and these people behind. 

As we exited down the long gravel path, the same way we entered, there was a wooden sign painted green that said in white lettering, 

“Return Slowly.”

I threw my hands in the air, alarming my husband, and making him stop the car so I could hop out and take a picture. I’m so glad I did, because it now serves as my screensaver on both my phone and laptop, constantly reminding me to pause, take a breath, center myself in God, and return to the work slowly. 

I struggled that first week at home to sync back into my normal life. I craved the silence, the stillness, the labyrinth, the prayer garden, and the holy hush that naturally accompanies The Hermitage. I missed the people, although we barely spoke, and how our connection is forever because of our shared experience. 

But the Lord is teaching me that coming Home to yourself and to Him is a daily journey, one that is mostly meant to happen in your real life. One that takes shape as you live and behold and rest in Him in spite of the chaos and mundaneness of it all. 

I’ve adopted a few new rhythms and picked back up some old ones since returning from The Hermitage. I mentioned earlier that I bought an oil lamp which I light in the mornings and the evenings, and Max and I have agreed to one silent meal a week and less time spent on our devices. 

I’ve picked back up the rhythm of silence and contemplatively sitting with the Lord each morning for 10-20 minutes. And I’m learning to practice sacred, deep listening; to God, myself, and those around me. 

And I’ve adopted the practice of returning slowly. 

Returning slowly to each moment. 

Returning slowly to the work. 

Returning slowly to the conversation.

Returning slowly to God. 

Returning slowly to myself. 

This returning slowly is usually met with an inhale, exhale, and some sort of breath prayer. Today that breath prayer comes from Psalm 62:1, “In God alone, my soul finds rest.”

But other times, when life gets hectic and loud, returning slowly looks like a few seconds of pausing and breathing out the word, Abba. A prayer all on its own, a prayer of coming Home. 

The Hermitage is not the only place that houses the Spirit of God and sacred silence. They are all around us, waiting to be found. In fact, they live within us, too. 

Waiting to be slowly returned to. 

Peace be with you,