On the Road to Peace
A Monthly Newsletter from Fr. John
Dear friends, I send you every blessing of peace as we start a new year! Mine began with my annual retreat, this time at the Camaldoli monastery in Big Sur, California, on the mountaintop overlooking the Pacific Ocean. What a blessing!
Just being there in paradise restores one’s sense of sanity, one’s sense of peace. The vastness of the blue ocean, the shocking mountain cliffs, the mysterious rocky coast and sandy beaches, and the wide array of creatures–sea gulls, otters, curlews, elephant seals, dolphins, whales, birds, Stellar Jays, egrets, blue heron, and even the ten foot long, prehistoric-looking condors—they push all your problems and worries away and fill you with peace because they point directly to the God of peace.
I’ve been coming here for over thirty years, and I always find it difficult because I don’t like the famous cliff-hanging Highway 1. But there’s nothing scarier than the road up to the monastery itself.
After Rocky Ridge and Limekiln, you pass over the new road built after part of the mountain collapsed into the ocean in 2017. Then just before Lucia, you turn right onto a single lane road and start the hair-raising, life-threatening, two-mile, zig-zag up the mountainside cliffs, tacking back and forth, until you come to the church, bookstore, guest rooms and hermitages.
The drive up the mountain terrifies me because it’s only one lane, with no guard rails, and a sheer drop all around you. The “road” (if that’s what you call it) continues to deteriorate, slowly slipping down the mountain, despite the regular asphalt repairs.
But once on top, the view stops you short. You look out over the vast ocean, the miles of trees and tall grasses, down the mountain cliffs and get a bird’s eye view of God’s creation. You are definitely closer to heaven now.
As you enter the old cinderblock chapel, you are greeted by Rublev’s gentle icon of the Trinity seated around a table. The white robed monks are just gathering for one of their many daily prayer vigils. They stand facing one another and begin. “O God, come to my assistance,” one chants. “O Lord, make haste to help me,” everyone responds.
Unlike the Trappists, the Camaldolese monks live in silence but each have their own “cell” (a little cabin with a garden). These little houses surround the church where they gather throughout the day for prayer.
St. Romuald founded the great monastery of Camaldoli in Tuscany under the Benedictine rule over a thousand years ago. Only one text survives, his “Little Rule:”
Sit in your cell as in paradise…Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish. The path you must follow is in the psalms—never leave it. If you have just come to the monastery, and in spite of your good will you cannot accomplish what you want, then take every opportunity you can to sing the psalms in your heart and to understand them with your mind. And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up. Hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more. Realize above all that you are in God’s presence, and stand there. Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God, like the chick who tastes nothing and eats nothing but what his mother brings him.
During my retreat, I tried to sit waiting, content in the grace of God. For me, it was a transformative, healing and disarming experience.
I really like that phrase, “content in the grace of God.” I hope this year you can take time each day to sit in peace, “content in the grace of God,” and let God touch your heart and speak to you in the silence. In that way, we receive the gift of peace, and are better able to offer one another God’s gift of peace, and our poor world, too.
May the God of peace bless you abundantly! Happy new year!