Vow of Silence

From January 28 to 30, Catholic Chaplin Mark Shiner led a group of Colgate students, interns and faculty members on a silent retreat to the Abbey of Genesee, a Trappist Monastery about 45 minutes south of Rochester. The monks at this abbey live a cloistered lifestyle. They have dedicated their life to silence and contemplation and have little contact with the outside world. Silent retreats date back to the time of Jesus. The main purpose of such a retreat is to escape the clutter of one’s life. The retreat is supposed to be a time to reflect on one’s life. In the silence, participants are supposed to hear the voice of God and understand His role in their lives. While there is some talking, any unnecessary conversation is avoided. Shiner gave the example of a visit to the O’Connor Campus Center (Coop). He said most of the conversation that takes place at the Coop is about the weather, sports, clothes or gossip. On a silent retreat, such conversation topics are avoided. Basically, the only speaking that took place was informational talking, such as what time dinner was going to be served. Even meals were served in silence. There were seven optional prayer services throughout the day, including one at 2:25 am. There were also three conferences throughout the weekend, led by the monks. First-year Kristal Holder, a retreat participant, described these services as “solemn and pious.” People of any religious background are invited to the retreat; three participants on the retreat were not Catholic. All cell phones, computers, study material, music, etc. were left at Colgate for the duration of the retreat. With the absence of these objects, the participants were able to fully reflect on their lives in a peaceful environment. “Being able to meditate, read, reflect and basically exist in silence was rather profound for it showed me that one can function without noise and unnecessary chatter,” Holden said. While participants could not talk to each other, they could write in journals, confide in priests, and take walks along the Genesee River Valley. Most participants left the retreat feeling invigorated and renewed spiritually.