Thursday, November 12, 2009

Retreat at the Camoldoli

After we moved out last week, we headed north for a much-anticipated stop at the Camoldoli Hermitage. I always try to savor the drive along coast on Highway 1--some of the most majestic views I think I've ever seen! After the stress and busy-ness of packing and moving, our spirits began to relax as we enjoyed the serenity of the views.

We pulled in to the Camoldoli after the long 2-mile driveway that zig-zags up the hill from Highway 1. As soon as we got out of the car, we were struck by the strange silence and profound peace of the monastery. The atmostphere is a world away from Pasadena, where we lived next to a freeway and there was always some sort of motor as background noise!

As we pulled up to the retreat house where our rooms were, there were 5 deer grazing right next to the building. That was another sign to me of the distinctiveness of this place--I think the deer have gained confidence in roaming through the buildings, partly because of the quiet and peace that pervades the place. It was a bit strange at first--learning to slow down, speak in whispers, and put away the to-do list! It was so wonderful to not have a 'schedule' and take the freedom to just sit and ruminate for awhile on any subject that came to mind!

...along the road to the Camoldoli

Bob and I like to go to some of the prayer services while we are there, and we find the 'rhythm' of the services helpful in entering the spirit of prayer and focus on God. I appreciate the expressions of prayer and rituals that they use that are different from what we are used to: the whole congregation 'sprinkled' with water as an expression of cleansing from sin, singing accapella through the psalms at lauds (morning prayer), watching the celebration of Christ's presence with us in the Eucharist, and spending 30 minutes in corporate silent meditation focused on the cross after vespers (evening prayer).

On our second full day at the monastery, we planned to do a big hike to Cone Peak, the highest peak on the California coast. Unfortunately, Bob was not feeling too well, so we decided to lay low and not hike. After all the packing and preparing in Pasadena, Bob realized he needed physical and emotional rest. I must admit I felt a little restless by then--ready to go somewhere, check e-mail, or just be able to talk above a whisper! I realized I needed to appreciate this rare time of solitude and quiet, so ended up taking pictures of some of the great flowers and scenery in the area.
I am an introvert and really appreciate times of quiet and solitude. But in a place where that is really the focus, I realized that it was hard for me to embrace the quiet and really feel content in it long-term. The moving of the past week and all the events to come kept my mind racing and wanting to be 'productive'. I realized that I needed seize this opportunity to read, rest, pray, and leisurely enjoy nature--all the things that I long to do when I am too busy! Once I let myself 'settle in' mentally, then I felt like I could soak in the value of the quietness and let myself be renewed. We always leave these times of retreat so refreshed! When we step out of the things that normally occupy our minds and really find peace, then I think we are able to sense God's spirit and hear His voice in new ways. We highly recommend a trip to a monastery for any of you who need a new perspective or need to be spiritually refreshed!