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April 11, 2012
Privacy from what? I could tell Q was a little wounded. I had announced that I was taking myself out to breakfast, something he never does.

No, no, I said, sorry for this need of mine to be alone. It's not FROM anything. Just...privacy.

I could keep the cats away, he offered.

But it's not the cats -- well, okay, it is the cats, but it's not more them than anybody else. There are times, especially when I have been on duty for days on end, when I just crave solitude. I want a waitress who calls you "Hon" and then leaves you alone, and you don't have to feel guilty that you're not talking to her because it's her job to leave you alone. A pleasantly garish New Jersey diner full of people who don't know you and don't need anything from you. Conversations going on around you in which you have no lines. There are times when all this is just right.

I've learned something, though, in thirty years of leading retreats and quiet days, and that is that we are not all alike in our relationship to solitude. When I was new at it, I would deliver a brief but earnest entreaty for everybody to enter into the silent portions of the retreat. Listen into yourself, I would say, and begin to feel the stillness God inhabits. I was sure that all the retreatants were called to come aside from the hustle of daily living and listen to the silence.

Now I know that not all of them are. I may be in need of it, and others like me, other over-scheduled people with too much going on. But a widow who lives alone may not be. She has plenty of silence in her life. She probably didn't come on retreat for more of the same -- she came for what I advertised: a closer walk with God. And holy conversation, not holy silence, may be the means by which she has that walk.

So now I begin with the same commercial for silence, for those who would like to explore it. But I also designate a talking room --usually the one where the coffee is laid on-- where people can talk. I do ask them to talk about things that matter, rather than about the perpendicularity of the walls to the floor. And I sternly counsel against discussing church business -- that will all still be there when we're finished, I tell them, and I guarantee you that some if it will be even worse.

The retreats are better now than they were back when I was a purist. God comes to people in different ways -- as many different ways as there are different people, which is a lot -- and will speak to you in a language you can understand.

The waitress walks by. Will you kill me if I ask you for another cup of coffee?

Yeah, she says, and pours me a cup.
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