Written by Vickie MacArthur
Silence quiets our own shouting so we can hear the world’s whispers.
There’s something in my soul that longs for silence. Perhaps there’s something in your soul too, that also longs for silence, a respite from the inner noise of our own thoughts, and the outer barrage of beeps and bells from our cell phones that seem to distract us from that feeling that there’s something beneath the surface calling for our attention. If only we could slow down long enough to listen with love, to ourselves, to each other, and to our planet.
“Listening With Love.” This was the theme of Creating Connection’s Nurturing Silence Retreat at our beloved Samish Island, October 21 – 23rd. I was honored to co-lead this retreat with my dear Buddhist friend and teacher, Jonathan Prescott. Jonathan is a chaplain and pastoral counselor, and long-time ordained student of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. I met Jon in 2018 at an extended meditation retreat at Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh’s monastery in southern France. There was something both inviting and familiar about Jonathan’s presence. We stopped and shared a few words, and when he told me he lived near Anacortes, in Washington state, I couldn’t believe it. Here we were halfway across the world, and I happen to meet someone who says he can almost see Samish Island from his living room window. We traded emails, and have kept in touch these past five years, with some deep conversations around silence and spiritual companioning in both the Buddhist and Christian traditions. The seed had been planted, ready to germinate and grow.
Since meeting Thich Nhat Hanh in 2011, and becoming immersed in Buddhist teachings and practices, while staying very much rooted in Community of Christ, I have wanted to bring my two beloved communities together. This weekend retreat of Nurturing Silence seemed like the perfect opportunity, and Creating Connection was the perfect host, with its emphasis on reaching out to communities beyond our traditional congregations. I mentioned the idea to Debra Donohue, and she responded with a resounding “Yes!” We went to work on the myriad details that go into planning and facilitating a retreat like this. As in past retreats, Shannon McAdam provided beautiful altars and worship centers, even providing dried rose petals from her garden, for us to offer back to the earth in gratitude.
I’ve always had an inter-spiritual heart, a heart that cannot be confined to just one tradition, but that looks for the underlying oneness that connects us all. I feel that we need to go beyond just inter-faith discussion, to sharing contemplative practice and silence together. Practicing in silence together allows us to go beyond the words that often get in the way, and connect through the loving silence of the heart.
And so we took time out of the busy freight train of our lives, to slow the momentum, to cultivate a silent space to receive the healing balm of practices drawn from both Buddhist and Christian contemplative wisdom. We learned how to clear the listening space: relaxing our bodies through gentle breath and movement, quieting our minds through meditation and mindful attention, and soothing our hearts by learning how to be still and listen to our heart’s deepest yearnings. Ultimately, we were held by the beauty and sacredness of nature and all creation, and the faith and hard work of many generations of Community of Christ who have supported, tended and cared lovingly for Samish Island.
One of the songs that was woven into the silence of our weekend was from our own Community of Christ Sings: “Listen in the silence, listen in the noise, listen for the sound of the Spirit’s voice.” We also sang a beautiful chant to Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion, nourishing loving kindness and compassion in ourselves and for the world. As I looked around at the faces of all those who had come together to practice, and listened to our voices blending together, my heart overflowed with joy. There’s something about both music and silence that weaves us together in ways that go beyond just talking and everyday conversation.
With many of our congregations struggling, and selling off church buildings, we need to discover new ways of coming together and creating community. In the past, Samish Island has been rented out to different Buddhist groups for their own separate retreats. I hope this retreat has planted the seed for a new kind of model and way of “inter-being.” Instead of seeing renters as just separate user groups, perhaps we can find ways of connecting through retreats and shared activities and practices that build bridges and fosters new understanding.
Let the Spirit breathe!
community of christ
355 Elmira Road North, Unit 129
Guelph, ON N1K 1S5 Canada
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