MINNEAPOLIS — Describing the modern-day mindset, retreat director Nancy Blanski leans on C.S. Lewis, who once wrote that upon waking, “All (our) wishes and hopes for the day rush at (us) like wild animals.”
“We need to push them back and let the quieter life flow in,” says Blanski, founder of Minneapolis-based Venite Ministries and leader of a silent retreat at Fargo’s Hope Lutheran Church on May 3 and 4.
“We rarely give ourselves time to… offer peace and equilibrium to our souls,” she says, noting that a silent retreat provides an opportunity to “turn down the volume in our lives and listen for that ‘still, small voice.’”
“Lord Teach Us to Pray: Sitting at the Feet of Jesus,” co-hosted by Hope Lutheran Church and Valley Christian Counseling Center, will offer an exploration of learned prayer, and “whether God is inviting us to something different.”
As a spiritual director, Blanski says she frequently hears of a desire for a deeper prayer life. “People aren’t always aware there are a lot of different ways that can be considered prayer.”
Though the thought of being silent for several hours may be intimidating, she says most participants are wishing for more by the end of the weekend. Along with quiet time with God, attendees will gather for short sessions to be guided through the weekend.
Blanski says unlike spiritual gatherings aimed at “ascending to a mountaintop experience,” silent retreats are “designed to facilitate going deep and descending into the heart; it’s looking at the inside, into your soul.”
Dan Borsheim, director of Valley Christian Counseling Center, says the idea for this event, the second of its kind, started after he and his staff attended a silent retreat a few years back and found it beneficial.
“We deal with a lot of anxiety (in our counseling practice),” Borsheim says. “It’s one of the top mental health issues of our day.”
In Archibald Hart’s book “The Anxiety Cure,” he says silence and solitude are named as major cures for anxiety. “From a Christian point of view, silence, prayer and solitude are also very important… to enhance the quality of people’s spiritual lives.”
But in today’s world of distraction and addictions, we can easily miss the cure before us. Instead, “we often write up quick grocery lists of needs for God without stopping to listen to him.” And church involvement doesn’t automatically lead to peace of heart, Borsheim notes. “The spiritual life is meant to be connected to the divine.”
He points to Scripture, specifically to Psalm 46:10, as evidence of the antidote: “Be still and know that I am God.”
“For me, just saying that statement brings tranquility into my life,” he says.
Ellen Zaeske, a Hope Lutheran member and program coordinator for the new ChristosFargo for spiritual-direction formation, helped bridge the two nonprofits for this event. “This whole thing follows my heart,” she says.
Zaeske became interested in deepening her prayer life after attending a wellness event at Hope a few years ago introducing the prayer practice of “lectio divina,” presenting the idea that God can break into our souls even through the simple act of breathing.
“What came to me was the words, ‘My love is deep,’ on breathing in, and, on exhalation, ‘for you,’ and that just shook me to the core,” she says. “It made me want to pursue this more.”
After attending one of Blanski’s retreats, Zaeske says she woke up in the middle of the night feeling her “heart being warmed.”
“I wasn’t sick, but some truly experiential things started to happen,” she says. “I hadn’t either paid attention before, or I just hadn’t been quiet enough to notice.”
Zaeske says many Christians “do” a lot for God, “but he wants to pursue a relationship with us in a very intimate way, and a lot of times we overlook the cues.” She says Blanski will share Scripture to help guide participants and provide a visual to help them go deeper into their conversations with God.
Zaeske says God awaits our attentive presence. “Come with a journal; you’ll be amazed at what pours out.”
Orlane Monga can vouch for the experience, having attended last year’s silent retreat during a particularly tumultuous time in her life.
“I was coming out of a crisis and just trying to find my footing again,” she says. “I was in a transition, and it felt chaotic.”
It’s in those “spaces of being in between,” Monga says, that a silent retreat can be particularly valuable. “Whether you’re in between jobs or moving or going from being married to not being married, it can get a little bit scary.”
For her, the retreat was life-changing. “I feel like I left a completely different person,” she says. “I didn’t know the level of impact just one day would have on me, but at the end I was literally crying.”
Though admittedly nervous to attend, she says she ultimately decided to “surrender to the process,” and in doing so, began to feel peace. “I had more clarity.”
Even now, she says, “whenever I feel frazzled, whenever I feel anxious, whenever I feel like I don’t have a clear picture of where I’m headed, I go back to that moment,” she says. “It was really transformational to just be still.”
If you go
What: “Lord Teach Us to Pray: Sitting at the Feet of Jesus” silent spiritual retreat
When: 7-9 p.m. Friday, May 3, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 4
Where: Hope Lutheran Church, 3636 25th St. S., Fargo
Cost: $45 in advance or $50 at the door (includes lunch and snacks Saturday)
Info: fargohope.org/adults or call 701-235-6629
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on April 26, 2019.]