Finally we had to squeeze through a small opening, no larger than two feet square, cut in the rock. It reminded me of something Jesus said: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” One traditional interpretation of that passage is that Jesus was referring to a very small gate in the wall of Jerusalem called the Needle’s Eye. For a camel to pass through that gate, it had to be stripped of all baggage and then pushed, pulled, and cajoled. To squeeze through this one, I had to take off my backpack and still it wasn’t easy.
Just then a jet passed so high overhead that it was recognizable only by the vapor trail it left in the azure sky—a silent, fitting reminder of how far we were removed from the rush and noise of the world we had left behind.
This was not a monastery for recluses, however, but a retreat for those wanting to get away from the world for a time to refresh their spirit and renew their focus in order to have more to contribute when they return. One resident friar had just returned from a World Economic Forum, where he had been invited as a spiritual leader.
The monastery welcomes anyone seeking spiritual solace. My party of about 30 represented several faiths and perhaps a dozen nationalities. There is no charge for meals or lodging, only a request that visitors lend a hand with the chores and respect others’ times of meditation.
Inside we were welcomed with a glass of tea and invited to sit and chat and enjoy the view. As we got to know one another, a sense of brotherhood instantly developed, despite our diverse backgrounds.
Sitting at a table, I talked with one of the monastery’s volunteers who was French. He was in his early twenties, and I was curious to find out what motivated him to stay at this remote outpost so far from civilization.
“I have been here for two years now,” he said in his charming accent. “I was a successful chief accountant for a prominent firm in France, with all the perks of a high-salaried job.”
“So what was it that made you give all that up?” I asked.
“I felt unfulfilled. One day as I was sitting in a chapel, I had a vision that caused me to realize I had my priorities wrong. I needed to live in service for others. That’s why I’m here.”
A German traveler joined our conversation, and soon we were discussing the world’s woes as we had experienced them, as well as ideas about how they might be rectified. Hours went by.
That evening we were invited to celebrate Mass together underneath the painted fragments of a scene of heaven and hell, saints and sinners, followed by a simple meal and a time of solitary meditation.
The next day as I made my way back down to the valley, I gazed at the surrounding hills, stretching into the distance. The scenery spoke to me more than it had on the way up, when my mind was still full of going, doing, achieving.
I imagined water flowing through the dry riverbeds and cascading over precipices in thunderous glory. If rain came, it would truly be a wonder. It hadn’t rained in four years.
The terrain appeared devoid of life, but upon closer examination all kinds of life could be seen on those steep slopes—lichen, exquisite minute wildflowers, and the occasional desert dweller, all struggling to survive. Even when our lives seem as dry and barren as those hills, with not much happening on the surface, God is busy at work.
As I reached the bottom of the hill, I determined to take a few minutes each day to make a temple of my heart. The art of meditation, I had learned, is not dependent on any place. It is the peace of heart and mind that are found by connecting with our Creator, regardless of the surroundings.
Galatians 6:6-7 ESV / One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.
1. Corinthians 10:13 ESV / No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Romans 8:28 ESV / And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.