A silent retreat with friends and an opportunity to discover the joy of crowd-sourced poetry

Last weekend, a group of friends and I drove up to the Jesuit Retreat House in Osh Kosh, Wisconsin for a long-awaited weekend of silence. We spend three days being fed physically (without having to cook) and spiritually (without being able to help ourselves), while pondering the wisdom of our retreat director, wandering the gorgeous grounds full of mystical art, enjoying glorious spring weather lakeside and getting way more rest than usual.

One of my fellow sojourners (Tara Greufe) invited us to contribute to a crowd-sourced poem on the topic “In the Silence.” I had never heard of crowd-sourced poetry and was delighted by the idea of creatively uniting in that way. She said she got the idea from Kwame Alexander, whose poem “This is Our Dream” includes contributions from people of all ages and walks of life, beautifully illustrating the interconnectedness of hopes we all share.

Though I’ve always intended to host other authors on Unite in Prayer, I haven’t gotten around to it yet because I’ve been drawn toward writing poetry as contemplative prayer on paper – a way of connecting to the still small voice within, where we can unite with God’s love, which naturally melts away divisive mindsets and creates inner peace that ripples into the world around us. I am convinced that the external work of authentic unity begins with the interior work of contemplation, which is a solitary act – like writing. Like everybody! I have a lifetime worth of my own interior work to do.

Tara’s idea to create a crowd-sourced poem was a full-circle moment for me as the perfect illustration of how when we connect deeply with the silence of contemplative prayer, we can also connect more deeply with our own humanity, God and others – without saying a word. Here’s the beautiful creation she wove together, which I am grateful to be a part of. I’m thrilled that my first time publishing the work of other writers can be the work of dear friends and fellow travelers on the spiritual pathway through life.

In the Silence
by The Jesuit Silent Retreat House Class of 2021

In the silence,
I walk endlessly.
His beauty surrounds me,
it brings joy and tears.
I can feel Him in the cool breeze and in the warmth of the sun.
In the silence,
I walk endlessly
and let Him know
I am here.

Uncomfortable at the start
like a too-snug sweater,
tugging and stretching.
Deep breaths.
The world is alive once you close your mouth and
quiet your brain –
the stitches of the sweater loosen.

The silence unravels everything
stitched too tight,
and together we rework the stitches
into a beautiful new creation,
just as He intended.

In the silence,
there’s a symphony of birds
including one annoying rooster.
Can you think birds are creepy and soulless,
while still marveling at their magnificence?

I worry if I am doing it right…
can we still praise the Lord without words and music?
But then I am reminded- of course!
There’s no wrong way to faith.

With my feet up and the sun on my face,
I read until my eyes drift closed, briefly.
In that moment,
the space between Heaven and Earth
feels a little bit closer than normal.

In the silence, I hear Jesus calling me to take up His yoke.
I see him carrying the other side and lessening the load.

The smell of delicious food fills my senses.
Food that I did not have to prepare myself
tastes extra sweet.

I feel the hand of God at work in those around me,
in my sisters in the community,
in the prayers of those who are with me.

I feel the scales falling from my eyes
like those of the blind man.
I see life in a new way,
as though for the very first time.

Silence gives me permission to pause,
the opportunity to appreciate beauty around me
the chance to fill my cup until it runneth over –
the sacred gift of intentional time with Jesus.
Silence gives me

In the silence,
I am freed of expectations
and find the joy in existing in God’s presence.
The bonds of distraction are broken
and my senses synchronize to the rhythm of nature and wonders of creation.
We become one creation.

In the silence, my demons await me,
no longer veiled by vices and denial.
There are no avoidance tactics,
no means of distraction.
The time to face what plagues me is at hand.
It’s time to drop my sword and allow God to win the battle.

In the silence,
I nourish my body and spirit
with long, slow, prayerful walks
and riding a bike that conjures memories of Miss. Gulch and her upright handlebars.
With berries, yogurt and vegetable soup – thick and delicious yet so hot I burn my mouth
and coffee and coffee and coffee and water with lemon
and cookies,
so so many cookies.

In the silence, I step into reverence.
This silence is not real or cutting.
This conjured silence opens my senses to the beautiful sounds of the natural world to go unnoticed most days.
The gentle clinking of cups on saucers or
quiet forks on quiet plates.
The lapping tide on Spring’s cold, clean, water-smoothed stones.
The creaking branch of a dormant weeping Silver Linden,
foot steps on a sandy gravel path and the
the sermon of the birds all around me.

This silence is not real.
It’s not the end of times.
It is not loneliness or grief.
This silence-
Is a gift.

In the silence,
I find myself like the shards of glass washed up on the shores of sparkling Lake Winnebago
Once broken and sharp
but then tumbled and thrown and drug through the sand
Then landing –
softened around the edges
by the waters of His love.

In the silence
I quiet my mind (it’s not easy),
I allow myself to cry –
I rest.

I am vulnerable to self,
I retrieve simple, joyful memories,
and am reminded of the pure goodness and love I experience regularly in my life,
I work toward forgiveness- of myself and others,
I redeem my spirit,
I write letters of love,
I heal,
I prepare for the noise with armor of God.

Through the tangled knots in my heart,
I journey into the silence and discover
rising where the noise
used to be.
Fierce sun rises
over still waters,
magenta orange reflections
ripple into my soul,
and I am filled with a sense
of infinite possibility
and peace.

Have you ever been on a silent retreat? What is your experience “In the Silence” of contemplative prayer? Do you find it helps you grow in your ability to connect with God and other people? Comment below, and I’ll be delighted to keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

Lord, help us to find the peace of Your Spirit in the silence of our own hearts. Give us the grace to connect more deeply with Your infinite wellspring of perfect love for us, so we can be a force of wisdom, understanding, forgiveness and ultimately unity in the world, which is thirsting for Your presence. In Jesus name, we pray. Amen.

Crowdsourced Poem “In the Silence”
Compiled by Tara Greufe
Written by Tara Greufe, Monica Burchett, Erin Dolan, Madeline Peake, Jen Brooke, Sara Kahler, Erin Burchett, Sara Sieran, Natalia Grodecki, Stacy Stork and Nicky Gant

Reflection and prayer written by Nicky Gant for http://www.uniteinprayer.org 4/26/2021

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