l look to the mountains; where will my help come from?
My help will come from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121)
People throughout the centuries have always had a particular fascination with mountains. They have climbed them, worshipped on them, built temples on them, retreated to them and prayed on them. Mountains have always been surrounded by an aura of the spiritual and have occupied a special place in humankind’s desire to rise above the limitations of the earth toward the spiritual.
In both the Old and New Testaments many wonderful, holy, and important events took place on top of mountains. Elijah found God in the loneliness of a mountain top. Moses met God face to face on Mount Sinai and brought back the Ten Commandments to the people. Christ was transfigured before his apostles as he revealed himself to them on a mountain top. He was crucified on a little mountain outside Jerusalem, and rose to heaven from another mountain top in Galilee.
Over the ensuing years, pious men built shrines and monasteries on mountain tops and would retreat there to find God. Somehow the mountain experience brought them closer to God; it freed them temporarily from the distractions and the problems of the world below.
Not everyone is able to escape to a mountain. However, other places, too, can enable us to have a similar experience. One such place for me is Tarrawarra, a Cistercian Monastery situated in Melbourne, Australia. Tarrawarra, such a magical name. But there is nothing magical about the place: a sacred place, yes. Nothing is illusionary here. What you see and experience really exists. Peacefulness envelops me here. Nothing is hurried, and everything is orderly.
Because Tarrawarra is halfway between heaven and earth, I have found it is the place where I can come closer to God. For a short while I can escape from the cage in which I am trapped for most of my days. Despite the hustle and bustle, the noise and activity, the other people within my cage, I have experienced emptiness and spiritual hunger.
For what was I searching? We all have a personal mountain to climb. We all have to struggle to escape from the problems and noise of the materialistic society in which we live. I count myself fortunate to have found my ‘mountain of God’ here at Tarrawarra. Here I have learned how to seek, experience, and appreciate solitude and silence.
Over the years, in my pursuit for inner peace, I have been helped immensely by the loving friendships I have made here with the Community and fellow pilgrims. I have learned how to retreat inwards. I have found my being and can now put my doing on hold.
Each day there is time for me to rest, meditate, pray, walk and enjoy the beauty of the surrounding countryside. On my summer retreat, I awaken to the gentle lowing of cattle and the wondrous singing of the hidden dawn chorus. From my window, my gaze lingers on the magnificent rose trees. In the gentle breeze, their perfume fills the air.
Early morning, I watch the rabbits scurrying across the lawn to play beneath the giant bunyip tree. Then there is the silence. It is all here. Everything I could possibly want. Every moment is a blessing to be savoured to the fullest. The days have structure but do not control me.
Today, as I write in the solitude of my room, it is winter. All morning the fog has hung her heavy mantle of grey over everything. But now the sun has gained its midday strength and the greyness has disappeared. The big log fire crackling merrily in the dining room below beckons me and other ‘mountain-climbers’ to the warmth of its hearth.
Here we eat, greet, converse and share experiences. In the breaking of the bread and the ritual of washing up, we too are community.
It is true that each of us travels a different path, climbs a different mountain, as we search for meaning and peace in our lives. And I have found this to be so true of the pilgrims I have met here. What blessing has led us all to this a sacred place? Dag Hammarskjold said; “We are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny, but what we put into it is ours.”
Soon it will be time to descend from my mountain and return to the outside world. Surprisingly, I am looking forward to it. My mind and body are relaxed and at peace. My step is lighter. I know God has released me from my cage.
And this is what life is all about. Each mountain climber, in their own individual way, must struggle with courage and faith to find their ‘mountain of the Lord’, away from all that is worldly and dragging them down, in order to come closer to God.
As the Psalmist says: “I lift up my eyes to the mountain from which help will come to me.”