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Leaning into the Silence

Written by Hannah Hepfer
October 11, 2010

Silent retreats have always intrigued me. As an employee of SU and alumnus of a Jesuit high school and university, I would often see them offered but never signed up. I suppose my biggest hesitation was, “Won’t it be boring?” Milling around in silence with strangers for a weekend seemed like an odd and potentially awkward way to spend one’s free time. 

But in the fall of 2008, Fr. Sundborg was a guest speaker for my department’s Executive Leadership Program.  One of our students asked what the best way to deepen one’s faith was and he replied, “Go to the silence and spend some time there.”  That morning I’d received an email from the office of Jesuit Mission and Identity offering a 3-day silent retreat for faculty and staff.  I’d felt a low-grade disconnect from my faith for some time and figured, “What’s one weekend?” I sent in my RSVP.

About 45 SU faculty, staff and alumni of Jesuit universities gathered at Palisades, a retreat center in Federal Way overlooking the Puget Sound. We received an outline of the schedule from the retreat team. I was surprised to see a substantial amount of free time built in. A wave of anxiety passed over me. What was I supposed to do with myself? No internet, phone, TV, friends or family to occupy my attention. Instead there were books, art supplies, a chapel and walking trails. Suddenly my “short” retreat loomed before me. 

There's Still Time

Faculty and staff are invited to register for this year's silent retreat, which will take place Nov. 12-14 at Palisades Retreat Center in Federal Way, Wash. The cost is $85. To sign up or for more information, contact Eddie Salazar at 296-6133 or jesuitidentity@seattleu.edu.

 

As I settled in and became more comfortable, though, I began to realize there wouldn’t be enough time.  That after I left I might actually miss this isolated weekend where I was free of  Facebook, e-mails and to-do lists, not to mention the sound of my own voice.  As the weekend progressed and my constant urge to be industrious and productive faded, I experienced a way of existing that was more satisfying than crossing off checklists.

The weekend included short talks and reflections by the retreat staff, spiritual direction (the few times we did talk), reconciliation and a closing mass, all optional. We knew where to go by following the printed schedule and we all ate together in the dining hall. I found myself really tasting the food.  Somehow it was richer and I was fuller faster. I was able to savor a cup of hot tea and look out over the water, small things beautiful in their simplicity that led me to wonder why I didn’t do them more often. 

The silence also offered the opportunity for renewal. I slept 11 hours each night and took naps during the day. It was rest I didn’t even realize I needed. At the close of the retreat Sunday afternoon, my sense of disconnect had dissipated and I returned refreshed to my “normal” life. 

Before my brother and I were born, my mother prayed that God would give us loving hearts and independent minds. I don’t think she realized it at the time but her desires for us were Ignatian in nature. And 25 years later when I signed up for my first silent retreat, I didn’t know it but these retreats foster those qualities:  that silence leads to reflection and increases the love in our hearts for one another, God and all of creation.

Hannah Hepfer is programs coordinator for the Center for Leadership Formation in the Albers School of Business and Economics.