Silence as a Gift for Writers

Taken during a beautiful quiet moment from the woods near Campion Renewal Center in Weston, MA.

Thank you for your patience with my online silence! (Thank you also for your prayers for my retreat. It was amazing, and I hope to post more about it soon.)

Silence has been part of my life ever since I entered the convent, but the deeper silence of a retreat is unique. During the month of October, I had the wonderful experience of making the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius at Campion Renewal Center in Weston, MA. This was my first experience of silence for an entire month,* but I have made many eight-day retreats. In general, retreat silence:

  • deepens my prayer
  • enhances a spirit of recollection
  • limits distractions
  • focuses me on my relationship with God and what’s important in my life
  • helps me to listen more deeply to the Scripture passages I pray with every day
  • increases awareness of my thoughts and feelings
  • helps me discern how the Holy Spirit is working within me…
  • …and more!

One of our characteristics as writers is to constantly listen. Whether we need to be attentive to an interviewee or our own “first thoughts” or feelings about a situation, listening is key. Silence gives us the space to listen more deeply, to make connections, to become aware of our unique insights that spring from our life experience. Deeper listening, making connections, awareness, insights and life experience are some of the essential ingredients of creativity.

Returning after a month of silence to the mission and writing that I am so passionate about, I sense that my experience of silence will enrich my life, my writing, my conversations, my relationships with others. I treasure much more the silence that is already part of my life.

If we don’t have a time of silence built into our day or week, we may be surprised to find how helpful it can be to the writing life, as well as our life of faith. (The Message from the recent Synod on the New Evangelization also refers to silence as important for receiving the Word of God, and this was really true for me on retreat!)  I try to “cushion” both my prayer time and my writing time with silence, but being out in nature is another way that I seek out silence. Here are a few little ways I use to add silence to my life:

  • take a walk or go for a run (without listening to music or a podcast)
  • turn off the cell phone for an hour
  • get up a few minutes early and watch the sunrise or enjoy a quiet cup of coffee (or you can try staying up a few minutes later to stargaze)
  • take a weekly “quiet night” at home that is also TV- and/or internet-free
  • turn the radio off when driving in the car

What role does silence play in your writing life? In your life of prayer? If you have a moment, share your ideas about building in times for silence in our everyday lives. Especially if you have children, please share what you do to gain some quiet moments–what works for you?

*For those who are wondering, the silence is not absolute. During the Spiritual Exercises that I made, retreatants spoke daily to their retreat director, but avoided speaking otherwise unless necessary. Usually, the retreatant takes a couple of “breaks” during the month where they can speak more freely. I had two afternoon “breaks” during the month.

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2 thoughts on “Silence as a Gift for Writers

  1. With four kids around most of the day, one of the big forms of silence is listening to the kids. Turning off the other noise — radio, TV, computer games, internet time, and just being with each other. “If you receive one of these little ones in my name . . .”

    As a family though, living in a small home, I’ve found ways to carve out quiet-time places for each of us. My son has his own (very small) bedroom. My eldest daughter has a walk-in closet that is her ‘room’. The littles can each pull a curtain around their bed for quiet, and this week after cleaning out behind the shed, I realized I had the perfect outdoor quiet space for the littles, where they could put a tiny table and chairs, and just go sit and be alone. I forbad the big kids to enter that tiny territory or even acknowledge they knew it existed. For myself, I made a reading corner in my bedroom.

    We also use communication to establish quiet times. We have a sunny patio (for winter) and a screen porch (for summer), and we’ll just tell the kids, “This room is for quiet time right now”. This morning at recess I sent one kid to the back yard, two out on a dog walk, and the fourth out front under the big golden maple tree — three of us got silence, two got companionship.

    So it’s an active thing.

    Oh, and here’s my big discovery, now that the youngest is 6 (so, quite old): Daily mass! They know they have to be quiet! I can finally pray in peace, more or less. 30 minutes of silence. Unheard of. Not something I could have had when they were babies or toddlers, but I’ll enjoy it now that we’ve reached this point. (I’d happily take a baby instead, but what God sends will do fine.)

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    • Thank you for sharing! I can really relate, both from being raised in a large family, and living in the community of sisters with whom I also work in our mission full-time. I especially love your comment, “one of the big forms of silence is listening to the kids.” I think that’s what I loved the most about the silence of my retreat, that it really enabled me to listen much more attentively and deeply than I usually do.

      Seeking silence “is an active thing” is a great insight as well. Thank you!

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