On Friday evening, October 2, a contingent of Calvin students, faculty, staff, spouses and friends will drive down to Camp Geneva in Holland, Mich. For the 24 hours that follow, they’re going to practice being very, very quiet.
On Friday evening, October 2, a contingent of Calvin students, faculty, staff, spouses and friends will drive down to Camp Geneva in Holland, Mich., settle into their cabins and gather, at 7:15 p.m., for a short worship service. For the 24 hours that follow, they’re going to practice being very, very quiet.
The gathering is the annual silent retreat hosted by the office of campus ministries (formerly the office of Christian formation.) “If you’ve never been to one of these, the sense of community is awesome,” said campus ministries spiritual director Sharon Bytwerk about the event, now in its fourth year.
Unplugging and rebooting
Bytwerk has organized the silent retreat since its inception, and she said the event follows a common, and very relaxed, pattern. Retreat-ees spend their time resting, reading scripture and walking in the prayer labyrinth or along the Lake Michigan shoreline. What they don’t do, she stressed, is fiddle with cell phones, laptops or iPods. The event is strictly technology free.
The absence of speech and of electronic communication are meant to be liberating rather than punitive. “It’s not a ‘Tsk-tsk,’ kind of a thing,” Bytwerk said. “It’s not so much being against speech as it is being for resting in the presence of the Lord. I don’t think we’re aware of how much energy we spend in social conversation … On a silent retreat, you can be in community without any of that responsibility.”
The affect of silence forms a profound bond, she said. “It’s a very deep sense of community. There’s a bonding just in the ultimate goal of desiring God.”
Back to basics
The stripped-down nature of the silent retreat allows people to deal with life’s essentials, she said. “You end up pondering things and praying about things that easily could be forgotten in daily life—although they shouldn’t be forgotten. You really look at the big picture of your life, and you reorient to God.”
The retreat is not completely without utterance, Bytwerk said. Meals are accompanied by the reading of scripture. And retreat-goers who need someone to talk to will find staff on hand for that purpose.
The silence ends after the evening meal on Saturday. Those who attend are generally gratified by the experience, said Bytwerk: “The feedback has been consistent every time we’ve offered it—that it’s meaningful.”