The great monastery of Monte Oliveto–nestled in the hills of Tuscany just South of the city of Siena.
I visited there on my 1987 hitch hiking pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and re-visited last summer on a trip to Italy.
I hitch hiked from England to Jerusalem staying in monasteries all along the route.
As I walked I prayed and as I prayed I was healed. I won’t go into the details, but God was cleaning house, and to do a really thorough house clean you have to move the furniture, throw out the trash, salvage the treasures and restore order.
Walking and praying and then staying in monasteries was the balm I needed, and I learned many things, but here is one:
In a world of fugitives the one who is heading home will seem to be running away.
We live in a world of fugitives. The majority of people live shallow lives on purpose. They do not want to examine life. They do not want to ask the important questions. They want to be entertained. They want to blot out the world with the sedatives of drink, drugs, food, sex, possessions, power, prestige and pleasure.
If you feel like the urge to get away, to hunker down, to be still, to be alone is weird and you are some kind of an odd ball, then take heart.
In a world of fugitives, the one who is heading home will seem to be running away.
In other words dare to be different. Dare to be who God created you to be, and you will only find who that person is by spending time alone. The pilgrimage is always solitary, but the pilgrim is never alone.
You are never alone on the pilgrimage because God and all the other invisible pilgrims are with you. By “invisible pilgrims” I mean that “great cloud of witnesses” that surround us. When you are alone you can connect with the saints and angels.
If you are reading this, then don’t forget today to pray. Spend time alone with the One. To remind you, here is a little word play/poem I wrote about contemplation years ago.
Be Still and Know That I AM God
Be Still and Know That I AM
Be Still and Know
Seriously, what I said to my wife was, “Can’t we just pull out, leave, check out, unplug, get a cabin in the mountains where I will have you, my books, a fireplace, a dog and a view. I should have been a monk.”
This desire to get away from it all is good, and I’m not just saying that because I’m an introvert. We try to fulfill this desire to get away from it all by taking a vacation, traveling, escaping in some way. These things are good, but they don’t ultimately satisfy.
That’s because the desire to get away from it all, to retire, to head for the hills or the beach–this is simply the deeper desire to get away from this world and get closer to God.
Have you thought about it? Why do we like the beach? It’s not really the girls in bikinis and the boy on surfboards. Its not really the sun, the sand and the surf. We love the beach because we are close to the endless sea. Its the horizon we long for. It’s the land beyond the end of the world that we gaze upon.
And why do we love the mountains? Its not just the fresh air, the trees, the calm of nature and the joy of being free. It is also because, from time immemorial the mountains have been the holy places. They are the uppermost parts where heaven meets earth and we want to climb up and be there to be closer to God.
So do not despise your contemplative spirit. It is good and right to want to get away from it all. You can do this–you must do this each day as you light the candles, gather the books, kneel in your own holy place and pray.
There, until the day when you can get away from it all for good, you will find peace.