Time in the tomb
by Gill Pennington
Experiencing an eight day silent retreat
It was with curiosity, anticipation, and some trepidation, that I mounted the steps to the main entrance of St. Beuno’s in North Wales. I am a Quaker going on an eight-day silent retreat, in a Catholic (Jesuit) retreat house!
This was a big stretch for me. I have no experience of Catholicism and as an extrovert, eight days of silence would be a challenge. On the first evening I wrote: “What do I want from this week? Space, time, depth of connection, rest, time to just be – connected to all that is God, and to find the silent depths of “the flowing vastness of presence.” (1)
My overall impression of the week is one of profound thankfulness for time I spent in the tomb! I was drawn to this time after the crucifixion; imagining Jesus resting, restoring and rejuvenating himself before appearing again. I discovered new truths, from scripture, from the dance (5rhythms), and from the daily Mass. For me, this was a time of integration; of recognising my wisdom and womanhood in God.
I walked alongside three Mary’s - women who were important to Jesus – considering them as mother, mistress and Madonna, and learnt much from each of them.(2)
I revelled in the prolonged silence and felt a profound joy at being with God in the beauty of creation. The panoramic view out across Wales towards the mountains of Snowdonia filled me with awe and wonder.
I connected with friends of God who were on the margins; those in love with Christ and who were prophetic voices across the ages, standing up for those “who are marginalised, pushed aside, dismissed, left out, undermined, underfed, unhoused or simply unseen and unheard.”(3)
I explored a little of the mystery of the crucifix and sensed the profound desolation of Christ on the cross when he felt separated from his Father “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and his shout, which to me is one of triumph, “It is finished!” I began to gain an understanding of consolation and desolation recognising that even in desolation we have not turned away from God. We can examine our mood in either state and find: “Creative moods are to be distinguished from destructive by their effect. If the mood is leading to an increase of faith, hope and charity then it is creative: if it is leading to a decrease of faith hope and charity then it is destructive” (4)
Laughter was an important part of the week; to stop it all getting too serious as my spiritual guide told me. I found laughter in simple things; the best time was when leaning into the strong wind, arms akimbo, on top of a hill with a 360 degree panoramic view, laughing at my good fortune in being alive and feeling that I was flying free.
At the end of each day before sleeping I did a short review of my day (based on the Ignatius Examen) in which I prayerfully considered the following words:
Yes I’m here
Perhaps this is something that many of us can use as a way of connecting with God each day. Going outside my comfort zone certainly extended me, grounded me and filled me with joy and I have come back to my work at Woodbrooke (the Quaker study centre in Birmingham) rested, rejuvenated and restored; ready and able to continue and expand my ministry to others.
(1) Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land P75 (DLT Ltd. 2006)
(2) Gabrielle Roth, Sweat your Prayers – Movement as Spiritual Practice (Newleaf 1999)
(3) Robert Lentz & Edwina Gateley, Christ in the Margins P7 (Orbis Books 2003)
(4) Ignatius of Loyola quoted in Gerard W. Hughes, God of Surprises P95 (DLT Ltd. 1985)