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Twice a year, Candler students have the opportunity to leave behind the hustle and bustle of graduate school and life in the city to embark on a two and a half day silent retreat at the Green Bough House of Prayer in rural Adrian, Georgia, where they immerse themselves in a time of spiritual direction, worship and listening for the “still, small voice” of God.

Co-founded by Candler alumnus Steve Bullington 74OX 79T, Green Bough offers some of these students their first taste of the fruits of a concentrated time of silent reflection.

The Rev. Ellen Echols Purdum, assistant dean of student life and spiritual formation, began the silent retreat tradition when she came to Candler five years ago, and says it is her favorite part of each semester. And there’s a growing group of students who might say the same.

“The retreat has become so popular that a waiting list forms each time we advertise the trip,” says Purdum. “Students sometimes wonder if they can make it through multiple days of no talking, but afterward they all agree: It is a life-giving, restorative time.”

Here, three of this semester’s participants share reflections on their time exploring the “sounds of silence.”

The weather was beautiful on Monday morning when I headed down the quiet highway toward Green Bough. Through all of the previous midterm week my mind had been on the retreat. I was ready to close my books and computer and just be in the solace of silence. Once there, I ditched my shoes and felt the grass and dirt under my feet. I spent hours lying on the ground under the trees in the yard doing nothing. I also walked the labyrinth, sat in the outdoor chapel, rode an old bike and climbed a tree. Simply put, my time there was perfect. — Ashley Waite, first-year MDiv student

The rules of the retreat were simple: Keep silence for your own sake and the sake of others around you, and do what your Spirit and body tell you to do. As Emory students, I think we wanted more rules to guide us, but it became evident that our Guide on this retreat would be of another nature. While at Green Bough, I discovered the simple joys of watching a trail of ants journey deep within the grass and gazing at a budding tree as a variety of birds returned for spring. It was divine to sit and witness the earth being reborn. I thoroughly enjoyed centering my days around prayer and the peace that comes with it. Incorporating the practices I learned at Green Bough into my life now that I’m back in the ‘real world’ make me feel like I have found a permanent respite to return to over and over again. —Marita Harrell, third-year MDiv student

The contemplative tradition at Green Bough is a tremendous treasure. As seminarians and graduate students, our lives are so patterned around doing that we have very few places in which we can simply be. I think Green Bough provides that sort of place—a place where all of the expectations that are pressed upon us as students, pastors, interns, mothers, husbands, etc. are stripped away for a few days so that we might meet God in the silence with our whole, true selves. —Andrew Toney, third-year MDiv student