It started out as a morning stroll. We were at the Ffald-y-Brenin retreat centre near Fishguard, Wales. The centre was perched high above the valley below. And it seemed like we were far from everywhere. In fact, our 40 foot bus had inched along the back roads to get here. Sometimes we had to stop for someone to get out to help guide the bus through some particularly narrow parts of the road.
Today was a retreat day and as I strolled across the retreat property, I happened to notice that we weren't quite at the top of the mountain as I thought. So, I took off over the sheep paths only to find that when I got to the top of hill, there was yet another hill to climb, and then another after that and then another.
It wasn't long until I found myself a number of miles from where I had started and many turns in the trail. I wondered whether I could find my way home by myself. But I had a suspicion what I would see when I finally got to the top so I kept on going.
And then there it was - a breathtaking panorama of the sea.
Now I had another decision. Would I press on to the sea or would I turn back? I had no money and no identity information with me and I couldn't have even said what the name of the retreat center was where I was staying, but I kept on going, now, down through a winding road to the sea, making turn after turn, wondering whether I could ever retrace my steps.
Many bends later, I was sitting on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Several hours later, I reluctantly started to retrace my steps back up the country roads and then down the other side through the sheep pastures, stopping several times to talk to others enjoying the same sun and scenary that I was. One couple happened along just as I needed assurance I was headed back in the right direction.
Earlier that morning, I had read a chapter in Margaret Silf's book, Sacred Spaces, on "hilltops." She says our spiritual journeys are much like those hilltop climbs: "There are moments of vision making all the climbing worthwhile, but wherever we stand still to take stock, there is always something more beyond our range, drawing us onward, attracting us in spite of the rocky journey that seems to separate us from our heart's desire."
The world looks different from the top of the hill. I learned that twice in one morning. You gain more perspective. Silf says our lives tend to have cycles in them and if we pay attention to the connecting points of these cycles we have a better vantage of where we've come from and where we are going. This is something to think about as I make the transition into a new work role in the next couple of weeks.
In the words of a Celtic prayer:
Glory be to you, O God,
for the grace of new beginnings
placed before me in every moment and encounter of life.
Glory, glory, glory
for the grace of new beginnings in every moment of life.