Editor’s Note: Former Salesian volunteer Matthew Beben shares how time spent on a silent retreat during his year of service in Ethiopia showed him how to slow down, re-center, and simply “be.”
It wouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me to hear that it took me twenty-four years to attend a silent retreat. I’m definitely not someone who often seeks out silence. As part of my year in Ethiopia the volunteers had to plan our own retreat. It turns out it’s slightly challenging to find retreat houses in Ethiopia.
Some research led us to the Galilee Centre; a spiritual retreat house run by the Jesuits. We didn’t initially realize it at the time, but the Centre solely offers silent retreats. Initially I was intimidated by this and knew that it would be out of my comfort zone. I’m glad that I chose to go because the lessons of this retreat still shape my life to this day.
The most profound experience of the retreat was having silent adoration every night. I’d been to silent adoration before this retreat, but never fully entered into it in this way. Since I was on silent retreat, there wasn’t the host of distractions that exist in everyday life. I had nowhere to be and no schedule to follow. This made it easier to spend time after dinner simply sitting in the presence of God.
My mind tends to be a busy, tumultuous place which can make it hard to slow my thoughts and just listen. Throughout this retreat a phrase had stuck in my head. “Be silent. Be still.” Father Joseph, who was leading the retreat, had given us a prayer by Edwina Gately:
Let Your God Love You
Before your God.
Let your God look upon you.
That is all.
God loves you
With an enormous love,
And only wants
To look upon you
With that love.
Let your God—
This prayer resounded deep inside me. It reminded me of the verse “Be still and know that I am God.” Being silent and still can be difficult in this noisy and bustling society. Time spent in silent prayer can feel like a waste. It’s easy to fall into the habit of always thinking of the next item that needs to be completed on our list. I learned during this retreat the power of a quiet moment with God.
Quiet, prayerful reflection has a subtle, but impressive ability to help make sense of our lives. I’ve noticed that it can be very difficult to hear God with all the distraction and noise of our busy lives. Sometimes all we need to do is try to let go of all our wants, fears, and plans for a short while and simply be in God’s presence.
- What experiences of God speaking in the silence have happened in your life?
- How have these times of silence and time for reflection affected you?
Matthew Beben graduated from the Catholic University of America in 2012. After graduation he spent a year in New Orleans fixing houses with United Saints Recovery Project and Notre Dame Mission Volunteers. Then he volunteered in Ethiopia for a year with the Salesian Lay Missioner program. He is currently a mechanical engineer for Alliance MEP Engineers.