Shared Silence

I am on retreat with some 40 Boston College students. For five days, we are keeping silence together and attending to the mystery of God.

During a meeting with other guides, an older Jesuit remarked that those who shared the long retreat–30 days in silence–emerge as lifelong friends, even without having spoken to each other.

I believe I understand why. Contemplating the mystery of God in silence is like gazing together at the transfigured Jesus. Sharing such a gaze–beholding God’s mystery together–changes you. It is a conversion, a conversation (Latin “turning together”), a shared glimpse at the truth “deep down things,” as Hopkins put it.

What a beautiful metaphor for what lovers do. I have often quoted Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.” I wonder whether the problem today is precisely that some lovers have lost the sense that there is anything else to look at besides each other, and that when they become bored they move on.

The promise of love is like the promise of a shared pilgrimage: that of moving together toward God, and therefore toward the source of love. Only with such a hopeful promise can couples weather the inevitable storms of the pilgrimage. And only with such a promise can one sustain hope, sustain desire, sustain joy–even during periods when one is unhappy. On the other hand, when one is happy one can appreciate it but not get too caught up in it; what matters is not the weather but the progress of the pilgrimage.


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Tim Muldoon
Tim Muldoon is the author of a number of books, including The Ignatian Workout and Living Against the Grain, and teaches in the Department of Philosophy at Boston College.


  1. Tim Muldoon writes about silence. How does the Ignatian practice compare to Merton’s conjectures on silence and Keating’s practice of Contemplative prayer?

    • Denise,
      What I see in Ignatius is the organizing of spiritual practices that long pre-date him. His book Spiritual Exercises is a method of organizing these practices in a particularly moving way. So I think it is fair to say that Ignatius’ view of contemplative practices grows out of much earlier monastic practices, and that same tradition gives rise to the writings of Merton and Keating. Silence in the Ignatian tradition serves the same function as silence in the Benedictine tradition (practiced by Trappists like Merton and Keating): it quiets voices which are not God’s so that God’s voice becomes clearer.

  2. Tim,
    A great quote. I love the image of two people looking off in the same direction together, and that really is what marriage is all about. Thanks.

  3. You have eloquently described one of the most common problems in love relationships–“some lovers have lost the sense that there is anything else to look at besides each other, and that when they become bored they move on.” There’s got to be more. I love the idea of a shared pilgrimage–both people moving in the same direction, inspired by, and inspiring, each othe along the way.
    Thanks for a great post.


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