When I was 14, with little exposure to church or ideas about God, Jesus or Christianity, I surprisingly attended a youth group retreat. On Saturday afternoon during some free time, I made my way up a formidable hill, spread a blanket and pillow on the ground and lay down. It was one of the autumn days when the sky was a bright but deep blue with very few clouds. The air was cool but the sun so warm it made up for the chill.
As I lay there, absorbing the warmth of the sun, lost in the beauty of the sky and panorama, I tasted the feeling of bliss. Gradually, I became aware of something. Well, really Someone. I became aware of the Presence of God. I had the profound sense that all was well—that Someone was holding everything together—and that Someone was looking down at me and I was looking back.
What do I make of my experience as I think back on it, a memory that could have been forgotten over the nearly 45 years that have passed? I believe what happened was that I entered into a sanctuary of solitude and silence, within myself as well as all around me. I became present to the present moment in which I was living. And through being present I encountered God.
David Benner, in his book Presence and Encounter, says “Presence is the awakening that calls us into an engagement with some aspect of the present moment. Presence makes us feel alive, or perhaps better, it lets us know that we are alive. It demands that we notice, and, in so doing, the distance between whatever we notice and us is suddenly reduced.”
That describes well what happened to me. I became present and awake to that which had seemed far away—an unknown and distant God—and God came near.
As you prepare for Holy Week, a somber time of reflection on the last days of Jesus’ earthly life and his voluntary surrender to death and its defeat, will you mark out time for solitude and silence? Will you find a sanctuary for yourself?
If you live in the Indy area, please consider taking time off from work and from the normal responsibilities of your life and come for a Holy Week Silent Retreat at Sustainable Faith Indy.
Also, if you’d like to hear more about this topic of Solitude and Silence and how it is a means to experience presence and encounter, here is a podcast of my recent sermon at Trinity Church on March 8, 2015.