“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” — Isaiah 55:12
During my May Retreat in Cuernavaca, we had a 36 hour tech-free time of silence. Some of you reading this may be horrified by the idea of not speaking or being spoken to for that long, some of you probably crave the opportunity to do something like that. I fell in the latter group. I looked forward to being able to disconnect from technology and verbal communication in favor of mindfulness and rest. I ate my meals in silence, wrote in my journal, took cat naps, colored, read a book of poems by Hafiz, and laid on a blanket in the shade of a big tree watching wind sway the leaves and birds fluttering across the property. The time of silence was life-giving to me. Though I love Mexico and have come to appreciate its celebratory and outgoing nature, spending 9 months fully immersed in it all has been quite draining for me.
During the time of silence I sometimes grew concerned that I wasn’t using the time to have sufficiently deep and meaningful talks to God about our relationship or my time here in Mexico, but for the most part I realized that the time of silence was God’s gift to me. God knew we had already done our fair share of talking over the past 9 months and what I really needed (and what I received) was a homecoming to myself. I was given the opportunity to color a picture and realize after a few minutes that I hadn’t had a single thought outside of where my pencil was traveling on the page. I was able to feel connected to parts of me I hadn’t even realized had been pushed away.
The time of silence felt like someone hitting my reset button for appreciating the tiny things. Even once it was over, I still felt more aware of my surroundings. I taught a bunch of my fellow YAGMs how to play Nertz, a favorite card game of mine (and now theirs) that I learned during my I AM ART trips with Athentikos to Guatemala. I could feel the energy around the game buzz with excitement and competition. I could feel the time of night getting later but also the unwillingness of us all to give up the time we were enjoying together. On Thursday we went to Las Estacas, an ecological park designed around a natural spring. Despite being in paradise, nearby fires in the area made large pieces of ash fall from the bright blue sky for a while. I sat at the edge of the water and dissolved the delicate pieces between my fingers. Later, I felt the coarse rope of a swing I had wrapped my hands around, followed by the lack of ground beneath my feet as I let myself glide through the air off the swing and into the river.
But one moment I noticed stuck out more than all the rest. My friend Renee and I, not quite ready to hop back into the water but too hot to sit out in the sun, decided to go for a walk. We were joined by our country coordinator’s 5 year old daughter, Inez, who wanted to tag along. As we ventured across the park grounds, we came across a unique stone pattern in the concrete. My friend Renee was the first to recognize it as a labyrinth. If you’re unfamiliar, a labyrinth is a type of walkway that has one path. It appears like a maze, except there’s no way to get lost and it requires no choice from the participant other than going in and coming back out. Labyrinths are used in spiritual and religious communities as a tool for prayerful meditation. A person can enter a labyrinth with a specific question in mind for discernment or simply be open to whatever comes to them. So Renee and I introduced Inez to how the labyrinth works and we started walking. First with me guiding the way and then with Inez as the head of our train. Aside from a couple choo-choo sounds, we were mostly quiet on our way in. Then we got to the center, stood there briefly, and then Inez led us out… running.
Being much smaller and more agile than myself, Inez quickly weaved around the tight curves of the labyrinth while I stumbled behind her. I noticed her squeals of joy between my own bouts of laughter (when I wasn’t trying to keep from getting dizzy!). I’ve never seen someone run a labyrinth before, or even participate in one with such joy. I thought back to my time of silence, when I occasionally felt guilty for not being able to focus my mind enough to have a “serious” moment with God. How silly. My time of silence brought me great peace and joy in part because I could do the things that children do– color, sleep, entertain myself. Jesus is found in the Bible saying that to enter the kingdom of heaven, one must be like a child (Matthew 18:1-5). I don’t read that passage as a threat to what will happen to us when we die, but rather a gentle reminder of how we are to live. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask that God’s kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven. As Christians, we have the opportunity to make that as much of a reality as we can. And what better way to do that than to keep our childlike faith alive?
I’m an observant person by nature, but lately I have found myself too busy, too distracted, too much of a lot of things to really take in the moments around me. Being in the quiet allowed me to come back to myself through God, but it also gave me the chance to come back to the world that God has crafted for us. I’m grateful to Inez for running me out of the labyrinth and back into the world. I’m grateful to my YAGMs for sitting with me in the silence and for learning to play Nertz. But most of all, I’m grateful for the opportunity to complete my final two months of my YAGM year with a childlike sense of the world and the feeling of quiet in my heart.