A few weeks ago I went on a spiritual retreat, alone, all by myself, alone.
I was staying at a Franciscan Monastery up in the mountains in Malibu, which made for a good distraction from the utter silence of being alone. I went for a six mile run down to the beach the first day I was there and I had a couple epiphanies. Malibu is the center of wealth in LA and the retreat center is inside a gated affluent community. From a hill above where the Franciscan retreat center sits, the measly middle class religious types can peer down on the .1% of the world while they play a quick round of tennis after work on their private courts, and hire valet service for their parties, but mostly just walk inside at 8pm and click on the Television for the evening. A note on the tennis courts, do people really play tennis that much that they need their own court? I doubt it, I think it’s just a silent nod to their level of wealth.
So I’m running down this street and a guy in his driveway yells at me to pick up my pace. I laughed awkwardly trying to discern what he was actually saying to me. Thinking in my head, this is my pace jack ass, so I run a 10 minute mile I’ve made peace with it you should too. Then as I ran away I realized he was mad I was running on his street (which didn’t have a private sign, I looked) and he wanted me to move faster to get off of it, can you believe it?!? He already had a fence towering around his property that was filled in with hedges twenty feet high to be sure no passing giants would be able see in. That is a serious need for privacy, he should just get a forehead tattoo that reads– don’t look at me.
I kept running as Telsas, Bently’s, Ferraris, and a whole lot of Range Rovers zoomed past me in their immaculate uniformity, and I was so pissed, I couldn’t get over it. I kept going through what I would have said if I went back. Something like – “well if you don’t want anyone on your street maybe you should add another gate to keep everyone out, if you’re lucky it will resemble a prison and then you will really have made it!” Buurrnnn. (I am the youngest sibling, I have a genetic pre-disposition for being bad at come-backs). I was annoyed at myself for caring so much, it was probably because he made me feel like a criminal and like I didn’t belong, that’s not a good feeling.
So anyways, you remember in Farenheit 451 when Guy is walking and meets Clarisse and she tells him to his complete amazement that her family walks places and that her Uncle sometimes gets arrested for just being a pedestrian? She also tells him they don’t take part in all the entertainment? Remember that? How Guy’s wife spends every evening living as a character in her TV shows, which are projected on all four walls of their living room. Remember how they all have ear buds in for constant entertainment throughout the day not dissimilar from the new iPhone ear buds? REMEMBER?
Malibu is Ray Bradbury’s fulfillment! (sans the book burning). You get stared at if you are not in one of five acceptable car brands but simply walking instead. Everyone is inundated with constant entertainment, from TV to social media or at least some music playing in their headphones. This includes me, thus my second epiphany – entertainment necessitates entertainment.
Note: Ray Bradbury was sort of right, George Orwell was too, who knows, maybe Suzanne Collins has some accurate predictions as well. DUH Duh duh.
The whole first portion of the afternoon that I arrived I could not settle down. I tried to pray but my mind was still at a city pace and thus restless in the stillness. Reading kept movement in my mind, which helped but I could not for the life of me be still. This is when I went running, got yelled at, spent a couple of hours trying to wordsmith the perfect come-backs for random rich guy, and finally ended back on the hill as the sun set. By that time I had been alone and unplugged long enough I started to settle in. The view alone became wild entertainment, my eyes balls erratically followed the frantic bats for longer than would be normal, I stopped reactively looking for my phone for updates, and then I finally prayed. I am most connected to God in nature, I have no problem believing that a divine being created mountains and oceans and tiny sing song birds, they’re just too brilliant. So in the quiet of nature, I prayed like someone was listening. A.W. Tozer says we can experience God in intimate ways like any other human relationship. I don’t really think that’s true, but whatever it was that I experienced it meant something to me.
I got in my car to go home at the end of the trip, and the idea of having the radio on felt like an intrusion on my space. SHHH I wanted to say to the world, you’re so loud. The caffeine jitters of my mind finally wore of and I was for once moving slowly, with one direction, and with clarity at last. I was perfectly happy talking to myself, slowing meandering through the gardens and smiling up at that beautiful birds. Crazy? Maybe. At peace? Finally.