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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

More on The Big Silence

I finally finished watching the twelve episodes of the past BBC tv series The Big Silence (you can watch all the episodes at YouTube).

The show took five volunteers (see photo above) on an eight day retreat at a Jesuit spirituality center, St Beuno's, with brief stops before and after at Worth Abbey, and the whole thing was facilitated by Worth Abbey's Dom Christopher Jamison.

I was particularly interested in what the retreat itself was like. I had thought a retreat would be all about preaching, classes, reading assigned books, a lot of group dynamics, etc., but this one was not so. Apart from one meeting a day with their spiritual directors, the retreatants had no assigned schedules and no duty other than to try to remain silent. They spent their time mostly alone experiencing nature through the beautiful grounds and countryside around the retreat house ..... sunsets, fields and hills that went on forever, trees and flowers, birds, sheep, butterflies, a horse, and a kitty :)

Of the five people chosen, only two thought of themselves as Christians before the retreat, and the other three appeared to be agnostic. Still, all of them had what seemed like profound religious experiences during the retreat that changed the way they thought of themselves and their lives and God. At the end of the last episode Fr. Jamison noted with some concern that while all had had such experiences, only the two previously Christian were interested in joining church. He commented in a voice-over ... "Three of the group did not connect belief in God with religion .... after... this journey with a religious community takes them farther than they ever dreamt ... still they have this sense, 'well I can still do it on my own'. So there's this wonderful paradox in all that which may occur to them in time. There's a sadness in it for me and there's a sadness in it for them too I think. And i think some of them almost sense that sadness, that they'd kind of like to take some more steps but they just can't, and that's really sad."

I think I understand the point of view of those three retreatants who took a step back - a retreat can show a person that God exists and is willing to interact with them directly, and that person may not see the need of religion in order to continue their relationship with God, especially if they've had previous worries about institutionalized religion.


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