A Silent Retreat Experience

On October 2nd, I drove four and a half hours west to St. Louis, Missouri to attend my first silent retreat. Although I had read the outline of daily activities, mailed to me months ago, I was still a little nervous. This was going to be an adventure.

When I arrived, I checked in and picked up my name tag and room assignment. I found out there were 81 women attending, and I was one of the 25 ‘first timers’. Each retreat participant got their own room with a private bathroom with shower. The room was about as big as a decent sized walk-in closet. If I put my suitcase on the available floor space, I wouldn’t be able to get past to the bathroom. First lesson in simplicity. How big does a room need to be? And the first of many gifts…I was on the ‘river side’ of the dorm, giving me beautiful views of the Mississippi River (and sunrises), and right next to a little alcove sitting area. I spent many hours there.

I had some free time until lunch, so I walked the grounds. Even though silence didn’t begin until after the first meal, my fellow retreatants were already sinking into the quiet. Adirondack chairs, arranged to view of the river, were filling up fast. And everywhere you looked were reminders of the gift of silence. From wall signs to floor mats.

The White House Retreat Center is run by the Jesuit order of Catholic priests. Although it is Catholic in spirit, all men and women of Christian faith are welcome. Each day begins with Morning Prayer, followed by breakfast and the first of three to four Conferences a day.

The Conferences are meetings of all the participants, to hear a talk given by the retreat director. This retreat was built around the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, which I had heard of, but never studied.

After each session, we were given work sheets with a review of the main points of the talk, and questions to meditate and pray over. In the free time after each conference, you could choose to study the sheets, pray independently, take a walk, or even take a nap. We were told there is no ‘right way’ to proceed in the retreat. Wherever you felt call to go, that’s where God wanted you to be.

Spiritual directors were available by appointment, and a small library was open for our use. I found a book I really liked, called The Examen. The examen is a five step process of reviewing your day, compiled by St. Ignatius of Loyola. I only had time to read the first step “Gratitude”, so after I got home, I ordered the book from Amazon, along with the Autobiography of St. Ignatius.

I had a wonderful experience on retreat. I really connected with the themes of the talks, and the grounds were just gorgeous. So many flowers. So many monarch butterflies!

Keeping silence was easy for me. I think I could have stayed an additional day, but not more. I say that because of the study material given. For me, it was very challenging, with new ideas and questions to ponder several times a day.

At the last lunch before leaving, my table mates and I could talk, and it was fun to introduce ourselves, even though we’d seen each other for three days. (There was time to speak and visit after dinner until the 8 pm conference, but it was optional. I decided to keep silence.) We all agreed that somehow we all felt like family, even though we didn’t speak until the last day.

I definitely think I’d attend this kind of retreat again someday. It’s a unique opportunity to come away from the everyday and sink into silence and the presence of the Lord. It’s such a great renewal of spirit and relationship with God.

Who wouldn’t want that?


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Thank you for all the wonderful comments on my last post, and the entries for the Chicken Soup for the Soul giveaway. The winner of the My Kind (of) America is: Estelle Soger! Congratulations Estelle, and I’ll be sure and get a copy of the book to you 🙂



50 thoughts on “A Silent Retreat Experience

  1. Oh, wow, Ceil, what a gorgeous place this is! I’m glad the silent retreat was something that appealed to you so wonderfully. I’ve no doubt you are spiritually richer because of it.

    • Hi Martha! It really was a very pretty setting. I didn’t expect that it would be so warm, so that really helped in being outside and taking walks too.

      I hope I’m spiritually richer! But time will tell. As I said to my sister, now comes the hard part. Can I do what I learned??
      Blessings to you too 🙂

  2. The retreat center is gorgeous. I could see spending time there because of the views and because silence doesn’t bother me.

    I’m glad you had this experience and shared it with us. I should know more about St. Ignatius since I attended a Jesuit university but I really don’t. I hope and pray your time at the retreat led you not only quiet but closer to God.

    • Hi Mary! Where did you go to school? My BIL and niece both went to Boston College, which I think is run by the Jesuits.

      Silence never bothers me either. I wonder if it’s because as mothers, we deal with a lot of noise! Getting a little quiet when the kids are young is golden. And yes, I hope I am closer to God too. I just got my books from Amazon, so I’m looking forward to learning more about the Examen, and about St. Ignatius too.

      Sunday blessings,

    • Hi Sandi! That’s what it was, an invitation to silence and just ‘being’. I heard God tell me that I didn’t have to do anything to make it ‘right’. Just being there and participating was plenty. So liberating…

      Wishing you a peaceful Sunday,

  3. Hi Ceil!
    Thank you for sharing about your silent retreat. It sounds like it was an amazing experience! There’s something about getting away from our normal surroundings to experience God in a fresh new way.

    Blessings on your week,


    • Hi Kim! I agree that the ‘coming away’ is such an important part of the experience. It’s a lot harder to hear when there’s so much noise, starting with what’s in my head!

      Blessings on your week too my friend,

  4. I have heard of The Examen. Give us a review when you finish. So glad your retreat was soul filling. Living alone, I spend a great deal of time in silence. Silence with a purpose is totally different. Bless you for taking this time to retreat from the world to seek Him.
    Blessings, My Friend!

    • Hi Lulu! What a great point about intentional silence vs. everyday silence. I think that does make a huge difference. When I’m silent with God, I am never lonely. But if I have a long day alone, sometimes I can feel abandoned. Thank you for that insight.

      Wishing you a peaceful Sunday,

  5. So glad to hear about your experience and see those gorgeous photos. I could feel the silence and the peace. Love the prayer of examen and find myself a fan of st ignatius too. I bet you will continue to discover gems from your deep time with God.

    • Hi Jean! I’m not surprised that you know about St. Ignatius’ Examen. I just got my books from Amazon, and I’m looking forward to reading both.
      I did save my notes from the retreat, and I look them over every day. It’s amazing what you hear and feel in silence focused on a relationship with God!
      Sunday blessings,

    • Hi Mari! I’m so glad that I could convey, at least a little bit, how lovely it was there. It certainly helped that the weather was great, and the grounds so pretty too.

      Thank you for commenting today 🙂

  6. Ceil I’m so glad you had a good retreat experience! I love silent retreats too, I love all aspects of the silence, together with others and alone. Make it a yearly trip!

    • Hey Sis! There were awards given out on the last day to people who had made multiple retreats. One had made 20 of them! I think I’d like to try all kinds of retreats, so I’m not so sure I’d go back here soon. I loved it, don’t get me wrong. But I know there are so many other kinds out there.

      Do you go on a silent one every year?
      We’ll talk soon about November.
      Have a peaceful night,

    • Hi Linda! Isn’t it true? I feel the same way. I think it’s because nature is so pure and grows as God intends. I’m also not faced with many decisions walking in the woods!

      Have a wonderful week,

  7. Thank you Ceil for sharing your experience and photos of the retreat you attended. I am sure it was very peaceful and spiritual. You reminded me of a similar retreat I attended at a Convent here in the UK years ago.

    God bless you and your family.

    • Hi Victor! Was it a silent one? I’m thinking that my next experience will be a retreat where there are small group discussions. I do love small groups, such a beautiful way to meet people and learn new ways to pray and see the Lord.

      God bless you and yours too!

      • Many years ago I attended a semi-silent retreat at Buckden Towers (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buckden_Towers ) A very old 12th Century Palace/Manor. The retreat was all about meditation and it was run by a very old (in his eighties I believe) Catholic priest. We celebrated Mass in a very old cave like small church on the grounds.

        I also attended retreats at a Convent. These were run by different Catholic Missionaries and involved small group discussions as you mention.

        I agree with you that we learn from each other in small groups. Sometimes this can happen on the Internet via our Blogs – but not often; sadly.

        Perhaps, (me thinking aloud here and frightening our dog), a group of Christians could start up a discussion group via e-mails. Say two or more people would exchange e-mail addresses and discuss a Christian topic. Same as they do in book clubs. Not that I have ever joined any. I have no patience to read books. I even let other people read the books I write!

        God bless.

        • That retreat sounds wonderful, especially touching is the mass in the cave. Such a beautiful throw-back to our ancestors in the church.

          The idea of a ’round-robin email sharing’ is a great one, especially for people who can’t get out of the house easily. Our faith is meant to be passed along to hold up our brothers and sisters in theirs! You always have such lovely ideas Victor.
          Thanks for coming back with your info!

  8. Congratulations to Estelle for winning the book! And, oh, my! This sounds amazing! You are right…a room does not need to be big at all to accommodate every need. We are finding that more and more on our minimizing journey. The world around us is filled with SO much excess…and that certainly includes noise. I was just this morning thinking of my favorite old “60’s” song, “Silence Is Golden”. It is good to soak into silence…for it is then that we can most easily hear the whispers of God. So thankful you enjoyed your retreat!

    • Hi Cheryl! I remember that song very well. “Silence is golden, but my eyes still see.” How true that is! As a matter of fact, we need to be silent to really see with our hearts.

      I know you’ve been working on minimizing, and silence is the ultimate soul-cleanser, moving out all that junk that’s unnecessary. Thank you for your thoughtful comment!

      I pray that you and your family are coming to peace more closely each day. God bless you all,

  9. I remember hearing about a retreat where no one spoke. This was many years ago, (high school years.) I also remember at Girl Scout camp one year we had a “Monk’s Meal” where no one spoke. I would be attracted to a three-day retreat where people didn’t speak except to God.

    • Hi Cecelia! Wow, a completely silent retreat? I don’t know if I could do that at this point, but maybe in the future? I appreciated the talks and questions to reflect on in the silent hours between the Conferences.
      I love that name, “Monks Meal”. What a great exercise in self control and in thought too.

      I hope that someday you can attend a silent retreat, I do think you’d love it.

  10. The grounds look so peaceful and the stone architecture so comforting. God is our fortress! Thanks for sharing your time there, giving us a window into a silent retreat. I haven’t done one, but there is opportunity in a retreat centre in my city. It also is a Catholic centre, and I so appreciate the nuns who sing in the choir during their Sunday service. My home church challenged us to do a prayer study over the summer following the teachings of St Ignatius. I didn’t quite finish it but loved the teachings of being reflective and quiet. Like you, I think I could stay silent even during the times we can talk during a silent retreat!

    • Hi Lynn! So you are familiar with the Examen? That’s so cool! As I said in the post, I had heard about it, but really never read much about it. I’m impressed that your home church provided a study on it too, that’s great. I have the feeling that it’s going to be a game-changer for my spiritual life. Well…at least I hope it will!

      Have a wonderful day, my fellow quiet-loving blog sister!

  11. Wow! Thank you for sharing your retreat experience, Ceil. I have never heard of one like this, but it sounds spirit-refreshing. The nature view is lovely. That alone would refresh me. 🙂 I especially love your photos of the butterflies. It sounds like the talks were deep and gave you much food for reflection. Love and hugs to you!

    • Hi Trudy! The naturescapes really were beautiful, it helped create an easy and lovely environment. The butterflies were migrating to Mexico at that time, and the retreat center was definitely a stop on the way. I’ve never seen so many! It was like your own “Butterfly Encounter” without the building.

      Love and hugs right back to you!

  12. This looks and sounds like a wonderful time of focus and listening to the Father. As much as I like to talk, I think I could do this…it is so important to take the time to be quiet. The world is a terribly noisy place. Thanks for sharing this experience with us!

    • Oh I think you could do it too Debby. And there is time to chat, and I would say most people did that. I personally wanted to keep silent, but I didn’t come with a friend or family member, so it was easy for me to stick to that.

      The world really is a noisy place, you are so right. Starting with the television and then to traffic!

      Wishing you a peaceful evening,

  13. Sacredspace.ie follows much of the teachings of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I love stopping by their website and what you experienced sounds very similar. I think I would love it!

    • Hi Pam! I’ll have to check that site out. I’ve really fallen in love with the spirituality of St. Ignatius. I know you would love it, it would inspire you a lot, and connect you even closer to the Lord. You should check one out sometime.

      Have a peaceful night,

  14. Thank you for sharing your silent retreat with us, Ceil. There is something about being alone with God in His creation that brings Him closer to us. The view of the river, the flowers and butterflies, the familiarity of being with other Christians even while not speaking, all create a warm place to get closer to Him as you meditated and prayed after each message shared. Sounds divine!

    • Hi Laurie! I love the way you summarized the experience, it’s perfect! There is something special about spending time intentionally with Christ. It really gave me time to think more deeply about my relationship with him.

      So glad your lights are back on!

  15. I enjoyed reading more about your retreat, Ceil! The photos are lovely, especially the butterflies, and it must have been so refreshing to get away from the noise and pressure of life and have time to focus on connecting with God. I’d love to do something like this one day.

    • Hi Lesley! I think you’d love it. It’s a very special thing to be able to ‘unplug’ from your everyday, and just spend time with God. It’s like an extended date with the Lord. I think it made us both very happy.

      Have a great week!

  16. My mother loved silent retreats and sent me one year while I was in high school. I loved it too and will never forget how God taught me about Himself in the silence and beauty around me. Even to this day, when I feel super stressed I take off for a few days and usually go up into the mountains by myself to be alone with God. I usually stay in a hotel these days but it is always beneficial and always different how the Holy Spirit leads me and teaches me. I’m glad you enjoyed your experience and I loved reading about it!

    • Hi Mary! I think you are providing a silent retreat for yourself when you go to the mountains, don’t you think? It sounds wonderful.

      Today, I spent a few hours at our local Arboretum. I sat by a river and soaked up the silence and the nature. I really does rejuvenate.

      God’s blessings on you and yours,

  17. I did a partial silence retreat some years back and loved it. There was talk at meals which this introvert found a bit difficult, especially since more than half of the participants were men. But I would do this again in a flash.

    I met God in a refreshing way. Gathered some spiritual discipline tools to carry home with me. And loved the worship and teaching therein.

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Ceil. I think more of us are craving this kind of intimacy with Christ than we realize.

    • Hi Linda! I agree that the chatter at meals would be distracting. But let me tell you, food service in silence makes so much noise! I found that a little distracting too, so I guess either way it’s loud.

      I learned at the retreat, as I’m sure you did too, that God looks forward to having our undivided attention even more than we want his. I found that to be an amazing concept.

      Have a peaceful night my friend,

    • Hi Karen! It was a wonderful experience. I think there’s just something very powerful about taking dedicated time away to come closer to Christ. I did truly enjoy it.

      I’m glad you liked the pictures too!

  18. WOW Ceil, this sounds amazing. I think I would really love something like this. I’m really glad you shared your experience, because I always wondered how those types of retreats unfolded.

    Good for YOU for taking those bold steps into something new!

    • Hi Christine! Honestly, I wondered how they went myself! I was pretty nervous going into it, but I didn’t need to be. It was a lovely experience, one I’m glad I got to to do.

      Have a great week!

  19. It sounds like a beautiful time was had by you there at this retreat, and a special time with you and the Lord too. The grounds are beautiful and I love those Adirondack chairs sitting looking out over the river!

    • Hi MM! It was a peaceful and wonderful experience. I’m so glad I went. Those Adirondack chairs were very popular, as you can image.

      I’d love to do another retreat next year, but maybe not a silent one this time.

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