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Recharging at Our Personal Retreat

David and I try to visit retreat centers on a regular basis to be away from the distractions of daily life in order to spend time alone with God, to listen to what He has to say to us. LA and the West Coast has a number of beautiful and affordable retreat centers to choose from. This year, to kick off 2022, we booked ourselves for a three day stay at the Serra Retreat Center in Malibu. Most retreat centers are run by various Catholic orders. This one is run by the Franciscans.

Many Christians, when they hear about anything Catholic, tend to write them off as having a different set of beliefs as us, and stay away. But have you thought of what the church looked like before the Protestant Reformation in 1517, a mere 500 some year before? That’s right! There was only one church and that was the Catholic church. While they may practice some things that we disagree with, the Catholic church has a rich deposit of traditions that we ignore at our own loss. Ever since the book “Celebration of Discipline” introduced us to spiritual disciplines and the Catholic contemplative traditions, we have enjoyed delving into the rich trove of contemplative literature and practices that the Catholic world has to offer. Most of these writings focus on the spiritual practices and do not mention topics where we differ (such as Mary and the Pope) and thus enrich our spiritual life tremendously.

This year we decided to check into separate rooms so that we won’t be distracted or irritated by the other’s habits, in order to totally focus on God. Each of us was warmly welcomed with a personalized greeting at the door.

We began our retreat by exploring the ground to seek our private corner to read His word, worship, and meditate on Scripture. We also bring some extra reading to focus in on a particular topic.

This morning, I walked out of my room and caught David spending time in front of this spectacular view of the ocean.

I went down to join him to share and pray before I head off on my own exploration.

Retreat centers are usually set in the midst of the beauty of nature in remote places. Serra retreat is on the hilltop overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the midst of the most expensive real estate in California. The view was spectacular! How can you not feel the majesty and nearness of God in this beautiful setting?

There is not much to do here other than walk, read, meditate and pray. When we pull ourselves away from the daily distractions of phone calls, email, and the internet, we find that God’s been waiting patiently for us all this time. After praying with David, I set off to explore the grounds, looking for my little corner to spend time with God. As I walked, I listened to my favorite worship music and just enjoyed God’s Presence and Companionship on the walk together.

This property owned by the Franciscan order is beautifully built and meticulously maintained. There is beautiful tile work everywhere, because the property was owned by owners that were using part of it to produce tiles. The Franciscans put these tiles to use liberally all over the gardens and courtyards, making this place alive with beauty. Even columns are surrounded by tiny colorful tiles.

There were beautiful fountains everywhere. Praying, reading and meditating to the sound of running water is one of the most soothing experiences.

There are several gardens with amazing views and little benches to sit and read.

The tiles at the top of these steps leading to this bench says: “There is always time to do what God created us to do”, reminding us that the most important thing is our relationship with Him, not what we do for Him.

I found this delightful bench halfway down a trail and decided to sit down for a breather while I conversed with God in front of this breathtaking ocean view.

What caught my eye was the colorful tiles that covered this bench. As I sat down, one of them caught my eye:

It was this butterfly. In our marriage class, we had been practicing the discipline of giving thanks, which the book “Champagne for the Soul” used the analogy of “catching butterflies” to describe. Catching this butterfly on my bench just made my day! It was as if God was winking at me, delighting at this moment of me catching this butterfly that He had planted there for all this time, just waiting for me to discover. We had a good laugh together as I thanked Him for this gift that was more precious than a thousand diamonds. It was our special moment to be enjoyed.

After some time, I turned and caught sight of this cross further up the hill, and decided to walk up there to explore some more.

I discovered that David had beat me to it and was already there doing some reading while looking down at the ocean.

There were others there on the hilltop, and this picture of the three men at the foot of the cross told an interesting story. One was a sojourner who was here at the retreat grounds seeking time with God away from the crowds and noise of the world. Sitting at the bench was a professional clergy, a Franciscan friar wearing the signature Franciscan frock, meditating. On the far left was one of the 9 professional gardeners that were in charge of the beautiful gardens at this retreat. Their work was such a beautiful worship and delighted not only God but everyone who benefitted from walking these grounds. All three men have chosen different walks in life, but all come to the foot of the cross as God’s sons in whom He delights. All three men are His gifts to the world.

I walked up to the cross, to discover this plaque covered by yet more beautiful tiles:

I was so delighted that the words on this plaque was exactly what just came to mind about the three men: “Each day the earth awaits the light of your love and thanks you.” It was as if God was winking at me again, saying, another little gem for you! I was reminded of the Psalmist’s prayer in Psalm 19:14: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” As I remembered this verse, I felt as if God responded by saying to me: “Yes, it is pleasing in my sight.” I smiled a big smile and walked on, eager for the next leg of our journey together in the gardens.

I decided to go look for the labyrinth. At my last personal retreat I had a powerful time of encounter with the Lord at the Labyrinth. I was curious what this time will bring. I discovered that the labyrinth was behind the way of the cross, which is another feature that can be found in many Catholic retreat centers. I decided to walk this path before visiting the labyrinth. Walking this path once again reminded me of the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Each station had a beautiful statue depicting a scene of Jesus on the way to the cross.

This path was also surrounded by gardens with little statues of people and angels in different postures of praying. It really helped me to focus my mind on the things that must have been happening while Jesus was on the way to the cross. Gazing at the statues made the scene come alive as I was able to shift my focus to different people at the scene and imagine what they must have been feeling at the time.

Finally, it was time to go walk the labyrinth. At the entrance, there was a little notice board explaining what a labyrinth is, the style of construction, and the history of the labyrinth.

The instructions for walking the labyrinth at the left was important to me as I walked, so I wrote down the words on my phone and used it as my journaling guide as I walked:

Walking the Labyrinth

The labyrinth has only one path, so there are no tricks to it and no dead ends. The path winds throughout and becomes a mirror for where we are in our lives.

One way to think of your walk is to consider the three-classic stages of many spiritual traditions: purgation, illumination and union.

Walking in: A releasing and letting go of the details of your life, a purging of the thoughts and emotions. This attitude quiets and empties the mind.

At the center: A place of illumination. Stay there as long as you like. This is a place of prayer and mediation. Receive what is there for you to receive.

Walking out: Join with God, our Higher Power, or the healing forces at work in the world, and carry the peace and gifts you have received as you return to the many circles in which you live, and work, and have your being.

Suggested Guidelines for your walk:

You might find it helpful to do a brief centering prayer before beginning your walk. You might want to ask yourself two questions: Where am I in my life? What do I need to receive?

Begin only at the entry point. If people in front of you are moving slower than you are, you are welcome to pass them. Don't worry about appearing to be in too much of a hurry. Your peace is your pace. Don't engage with what someone else is doing on the labyrinth… simply observe, body, soul and spirit… just notice…let what you notice teach you. If someone upsets you, that person Is your teacher.

Because the labyrinth is one continuous path, you are likely to meet people on their way out when you are on your way in and vice versa. Simply step aside to allow another to pass, being mindful of where you were. Then continue on your walk.

Pause in the center for as long as you wish.

Exit the labyrinth on the same path as the one you entered.


Moving inward is a time to cast off, discard, divest, unwrap, and forget.

Being in the center is a time to be open, expectant, empty, and receptive.

Moving outward is a time to gain direction, satisfaction, comfort, and new energy.

It was time to walk the labyrinth!

I journaled as I walked slowly along the path, shedding things on my mind, heart, and spirit as I moved in. It was a precious time of uncovering the lies within that I had believed about myself and God and shedding them on the way to the center to the cross. When I arrived at the center, I knelt there as I gazed at the cross. Unlike previous times, when there were tears or wrestling with God, this time I felt an incredible lightness of being after I shed all these burdens on the way in. Next, it was time to move outward. I felt a distinct sense that I walked in with the posture of a child, and that I am walking out with the position of a mother who will open her arms to welcome her children home. I felt renewed strength and hope for the future, especially with the assurance that David and I will be walking in sync at the same speed.

We spent the time at the retreat also fasting. In past fasts, I would have a very difficult time with my mind constantly fixated on what I’m going to eat after the fast, struggling with thoughts about cheating with a little snack, when in fact I know that the purpose of fasting is to feast on God (See comparison below). This is the reality I lived through at this retreat... Yes, I felt weak and had to move slowly as I was lightheaded. However, I really felt that I was feasting with my time spent with God. So much so that I didn’t have much time to think about my hunger.

Personal retreats are so rich, David and I wondered why we didn’t make it a tradition at the beginning of each year. We both agree that moving forward, we will.


This season after the retreat should be more than a time of fasting. It should be a joyous season of feasting.

This season is a time to fast from certain things and to feast on others. It is a season in which we should:

Fast from judging others; feast on the Christ indwelling them.

Fast from emphasis on differences; feast on the unity of all life.

Fast from apparent darkness; feast on the reality of light.

Fast from thoughts of illness; feast on the healing power of God.

Fast from words that pollute; feast on phrases that purify.

Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.

Fast from anger; feast on patience.

Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.

Fast from worry; feast on Divine order.

Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.

Fast from negatives; feast on affirmatives.

Fast from unrelenting pressures; feast on unceasing prayer.

Fast from hostility; feast on non-resistance.

Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.

Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.

Fast from personal anxiety; feast on eternal truth.

Fast from discouragement; feast on hope.

Fast from facts that depress; feast on verities that uplift.

Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm.

Fast from suspicion; feast on truth.

Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.

Fast from shadows of sorrow; feast on the sunlight of serenity.

Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.

Fast from problems that overwhelm; feast on prayer that undergirds.

These 40 days should be more than time of fasting.

It should be a joyous season of feasting.

Author unknown

Fast from music with polluted lyrics; feast on songs that glorify God.

Fast from polluted movies; feast on serving and loving others.

Fast from polluted television programs; feast on prayer and intercession.

Fast from polluted internet sites; feast on God’s word.

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