The Jesuits believe that it’s only when you’re alone and in absolute silence that God speaks to you. So once a year, they talk to God. To do that, they stay absolutely silent for forty days. Their eyes only read the Bible, and their ears only hear the sounds of the passing day. They do not talk or communicate with another soul. No touching other people. No eye contact. Nothing.
Maybe they’re right. Vows of silence are known across other religions: Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Islam. They all have their own followers of silence.
So it was that I found myself somewhere in Tagaytay, contemplating silence one summer in a three-day retreat, Jesuit style. Read: in absolute silence.
One of the great things about being in a Catholic university’s law program is that they offer spiritual coping mechanisms, and one of these programs is a retreat tailor-made for law students. I had just finished my first semester of law school, and as any lawyer will tell you, that first week after you finishing your first law school finals is quite a doozy. While it isn’t true, it feels as if your grades are points on a dartboard. I was not feeling quite comfortable with what I had written in my booklets, and I figured that after spending so much time wrestling with words, absolute silence was the perfect way to get a grip.
Not that the choice was easy. Half of my law school block were exorcising their own demons in nearby Caylabne, where their palliative of choice involved oysters, steaks, ribs, and lots of alcohol bearing the image of Saint Michael the Archangel.
On the first day, the retreat master asked us to reflect on who God is. The idea, as it was explained to us much later, was to see God reflected in every little bit of creation around us. While that idea did sink in, I couldn’t help but wonder where God was in the whole scheme of things. He was both there and not there, which the retreat master would later say was the point of the whole exercise. It was up to us, he said, to make sure we all felt His presence.
On the second day, the retreat master gave us an assignment to find out who it was that we needed to forgive. To help those who hurt us the most, we have to forgive them over and over and over again. This, the retreat master said, was the true meaning of Jesus explaining forgiveness as one that happens four thousand nine hundred times. I wanted to blame God for everything bad that had happened to me: my parents splitting up; entering law school at an age far beyond those of my peers; not giving me the foresight and wisdom to clean up my act when I had to; for putting me in a position where failure was not an option. I hated Him, and I wanted to let him know about it, but at the back of my head I had a nagging feeling I was only talking to myself.
On the third day, we were allowed to break our silence, for good. I thought it would be good to speak, but somehow I remained quiet until everyone boarded their cars for home. On the other hand, I remained quiet. I think I wanted to talk to God just a little more, just to see if He was really there.
Unlike the other silent retreaters, I didn’t exactly go home just yet.
That evening, I joined the Bohemians in Caylabne, where they were still raising their glasses in worship of Saint Michael the Archangel. The demons went away immediately, but oh boy did they return.
I write this in the manner of old Nick, with a bottle in hand, raised to the memory of those three days of quiet and one night of angel-worship. The jury’s still out on whether the good angel is better help in slaying dragons than his old man, but I’ll find out in the morning, when I’m more sober.
Eat Love Pray contest entry, but this work has been edited since its submission.