Episode two of The Big Silence, BBC 2’s documentary about a group exploring the benefits of silence, focused on the five participants undertaking an eight day silent retreat. The programme observed the group go through an interesting arc from initial frustrations and rebellion, through intense emotional struggles to a variety of epiphanies.
During the first few days of the retreat several of the group found themselves rebelling against the silence: whispering in corridors; planning a ‘break out’ to a local pub; texting and phoning loved ones and chatting on walks around the countryside. Gradually each member of the group began to explore the possibilities of the retreat as they observed sustained periods of silence.
Several experiences from the programme particularly stick in the mind. One man picked up a closed pine cone from the grounds early on in the retreat and as the cone opened over the following days so he felt himself opening to his inner self and to God. One of the women sitting in silence with a retreat leader found herself turning her hands upwards and open in acceptance and offering. Two of the women wept together as they shared coming to terms with their hurt and anger over the death of their fathers. A man sceptical about visualising Jesus accompanying him on a walk shared his feeling that he had not walked alone.
As I watched this intimate record of peoples physical, emotional and spiritual wrestling, I was particularly struck by the importance of community holding each in their individual encounters with silence. I was also reminded of the value of the wisdom and discernment of those guiding the retreat; not least their willingness to speak difficult truths while allowing the participants to find their own way through.
The programme finished with the challenge of how each member of the retreat would take their encounters with silence, themselves and God back into their everyday lives. The trailer for the third and final episode of the series suggested this may well be the most interesting part of the whole enterprise.
Wouldn’t it be great if… #24
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