New Year, new possibilities. As much as I like the start of a New Year and the possibilities it brings, I don’t like how quickly the calendar fills with commitments, sometimes to the point of leaving no room to be still. I can only blame myself and my inability to say no, added to my tendency to fill any extra hours to capacity.
As I begin to mark my calendar this New Year, I want to make certain to include time to retreat and climb a mountain. Jesus taught us to retreat, to go up to a mountain top and find time alone to pray. “But he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.” Luke 5:16
Finding time to be alone is one of the reasons I enjoy camping and hiking. In past years I’ve had the grace to climb some incredible mountains – Mount Sinai in Egypt, Machu Picchu in Peru, Mount Rose in Nevada. Reaching the summit was challenging but the view of God’s creation and the silence was worth each strained muscle. Not only did each hike help me slow my pace, each helped me set aside distractions from my day-to-day routine. The hikes helped me pay attention, to take in the view. The long climbs also gave me time to think and to pray.
Granted, we do not have any mountains in the Rio Grande Valley, but we can set aside time to claim our own space, our metaphorical mountains, to sit in prayer and silence with God. One of my favorite spaces is in my backyard porch, either early in the morning before anyone wakes up or mid mornings on weekends when I can sit and listen to the wind playing with the leaves.
While advances in technology have helped us become more efficient, it feels like all the latest gadgets also serve to keep us on a leash around the clock. Not only are we connected 24 hours a day, information streams in from all directions, making it a noisy world to navigate. Sometimes we have to disconnect, make time to be still, to go on a retreat, even if for a few minutes. Silence, solitude, and space help us become better listeners. In our noisy world, given all our distractions, how can we respond to what God is calling us to if we are not attentive to his direction?
“When messages and information are plentiful, silence becomes essential if we are to distinguish what is important from what is insignificant or secondary,” said Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his message for World Communications Day in 2012. “Deeper reflection helps us to discover the links between events that at first sight seem unconnected, to make evaluations, to analyze messages; this makes it possible to share thoughtful and relevant opinions, giving rise to an authentic body of shared knowledge. For this to happen, it is necessary to develop an appropriate environment, a kind of ‘eco-system’ that maintains a just equilibrium between silence, words, images and sounds.”
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI also said, “Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist. In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves.”
Pope Francis reminds us as well, “In the history of salvation, neither in the clamor nor in the blatant, but the shadows and the silence are the places in which God chose to reveal himself to humankind.”
The Annotations to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, note “the more our soul finds itself alone and isolated, the more apt it makes itself to approach and to reach its Creator and Lord, and the more it so approaches him, the more it disposes itself to receive graces and gifts from his Divine and Sovereign Goodness.”
There are different ways to disconnect, different spaces for prayer and silence – hiking outdoors, participating in a contemplative prayer group, signing up for retreat, Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, or taking time to garden. Each of us has to find our own mountain where we can retreat to in this New Year. So instead of making New Year’s resolutions, this year I am going to focus on scheduling time on my calendar to slow my pace and climb a mountain.
(Originally published in January 2015 edition of The Valley Catholic newspaper)