Over the Easter weekend, my family and I traveled to a local mountain resort to get away from the city. We also thought it would be the perfect setting to celebrate Easter. The weather cooperated, but this is Southern California so it usually does. The road up to the resort allowed us to take in the full majesty of the God’s country. Before heading deep into the mountains, the road wound over the valley and which allowed us to view the ocean in the distance. Once the road twisted into the canyons and crevices of the mountains, we roll down our windows and took in the fresh air. The cool breeze blew on our faces. The smell of the pine trees tantalized our senses.
About 10 miles from the entrance of the resort, the road broke through the forest and opened up to a deep canyon several miles wide. At the far end, the lake of the resort reflected the sun. The view is breathtaking but the last stretch was nerve-wracking as one side of the road was a precipitous drop into the canyon and the other side was a steep mountain wall hundreds of feet that reached up to heaven.
The mountains in America amazed Thomas Merton. In his book, “The Seven Storey Mountain”, he wrote, “Oh America, how I began to love your country! What miles of silences God has made in you for contemplation If only people realized what all your mountains and forests are really for!”
My sentiments exactly!
It was a perfect time to go. The weather was cool, the sky was clear, the lake was bright blue and the mountaintops glistened with snow. What a great place to welcome the Risen Christ!
Silence in the Cabin
My wife rented a lovely cabin. It sat on an acre, enough distance from the neighbors and for the kids to throw a ball without it going over the fence. Our dog loved the freedom of running.
What I loved most particular was the silence at night; sitting on the porch, listening to the silence in the mountains, glorifying God.
But the LORD is in his holy temple; silence before him, all the earth! (Habakkuk 2:20)
This silence, without the sounds of the city, the cacophony of cars, TVs, iPads, smartphones, allowed us to contemplate what would occur the next morning – Christ’s resurrection. The resort was a perfect place for a retreat.
The silence at this cabin at that night reminded me of a quote in Cardinal Sarah’s book, “The Power of Silence, Against the Dictatorship of Noise.” Cardinal Sarah wrote,
“Without silence, God disappears in the noise. And this noise becomes all the more obsessive because God is absent. Unless the world rediscovers silence, it is lost. The earth then rushes into nothingness.”
We have been to this church in this resort town in the past. It sits in the woods and there is a wonderful wide window behind the altar where we can view the pine trees and sunlight. That morning, as we expected, the church was packed. Unfortunately, it was unlike other Sundays in churches in America.
An African priest was saying mass that day. Somewhere from West Africa, I’m sure, but I was not certain from which country. I was amazed by his enthusiasm, joyful outlook, and eagerness. He had a different vibe than any other American priest I encountered. This is not to disparage any other priest in America. But his joyfulness was contagious and I could tell that the congregation was catching it. He was passionate. As I listened to his homily and saw him interact with the parishioners, I could tell that the parishioners were really absorbing his words about God’s love and the glory of Easter. It was comforting to see that all these people, strangers, most new to this church because of the Easter break, were united for one purpose, to celebrate God’s love.
After mass, I saw that many of the parishioners were gathering around the priest. They were all eager to thank him, ask him questions about where he was from.
An Easter Retreat in the Mountains
Everywhere in this tiny mountain resort in California, the view was spectacular. The mountains surrounded the valley and one could not escape it.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. Psalm 121: 1-2
While we only stayed several days, this mini-retreat during the Easter break rejuvenated my little family. The silence at night, the majesty of the mountains, the drive through the forest, the wonderful Easter mass made us more aware of Christ’s love. It made us appreciate what we have. It allowed us to refocus on the important aspects of life. We got away from the constant distraction of the cycle of bad news pushed at us from everywhere.
But what I discovered is that I do not have to go on a trip to the mountains for a retreat to reconnect. I can spend less time on my electronic devices at home; turn off the television; listen to prayers on the radio while in the car; carve out a time for prayer and contemplation in my own backyard.
To stay in shape physically one needs to exercise the body and create a routine. It is the same with mental and spiritual fitness. Take time each day to make your own retreat, block out the noise and reconnect with God.