Our retreat on Montserrat Mountain is coming to an end. Three beautiful and rewarding weeks are almost over and the return to the Finnish summer is coming. There were various purposes for our retreat and they really became true well. The writing work has flowed well, the same goes for the tens of kilometers of hikes we planned.
In addition to the concrete level, the retreats always have a spiritual goal and the Helpers have always also given their surprise. So was it this time, too.
Montserrat Mountain is a very special place, just because of the formation of the earth itself. The mountains consist of the chubbiest shapes and peaks one after the other. Like cojoined round-peaked sugar tops that make up the whole mountain range. The earth is porous and even erodes easily. Every day we see and hear how small and slightly larger stones roll down the slope here and there. It’s a real danger and a presence exercise so you don’t get hit by some rock. It’s not often that larger avalanches happen, but you can see their tracks all over the mountain face. For some reason, large boulders weighing tons have lost their grip on the mountain and have probably come down with a big bang. Everywhere you can see how larger parts of the mountain peaks have been screwed by man to the peak behind them. Many large nets also bind the earth made up of stones. Outside my window, on the sixth floor, there is such a net, and every day I hear how it is bombarded with stones. Fortunately, the stones remain in the net, as there is a road below that brings the church visitors back to the hotel.
Over the centuries, many small hermit huts have been built on the tops of the mountain, where monks may still spend time in silence focusing and meditating on God.
Montserrat monastery area is no longer a quiet and sacred area, but a very popular tourist attraction. At this time of summer, hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors come here every day. I hear there are a million visitors every year. Tourists mean that this place employs many village residents, but also that the peace and sanctity of the monastery are disturbed.
Before the discovery of the Black Madonna, there was a Temple of Venus on this spot erected by the Romans around 160 AD, so the sanctity of the place was known already then. The Romans honored their Gods by building their temples in places worthy of the gods. According to the legend, the Roman temple was destroyed by Archangel Michael and it crumbled into a mark on the history papers.
About a thousand years ago, a Benedictine monastery, Santa Maria de Montserrat, was established here, which is still in operation. Legend has it that a group of children when they were shepherding, would have seen a light flickering on the mountainside and heard the angels sing. The same thing repeated frequently, and after a while, that light led the church fathers, who had arrived here, to the cave where they found a statue of Mary, a Catalan, la Moreneta, the little dark one.
The cave is a special pilgrimage site, as is the entire Monastery of Montserrat and the beautiful, gold-decorated church inside. The treasure of the church is the statue of St. Mary, which has been placed high above the altar of the church. There is a constant stream of tourists and pilgrims as everyone seeks the blessing of the statue.
I was deeply impressed by the church and the choir of boys singing there when I visited the place for the first time about three years ago. I, who have spent most of my life a little dreadful of churches and the authority that goes with them, experienced beautiful and sacred moments there. I am grateful that there still are such churches and masses with light and high-rising energy. Of course, this second time no longer had such a profound effect, but surely this large number of tourists and the commotion that comes with them played a part in the disappearance of the sense of holiness.
Holiness, however, is the kind of energy that we are all supposed to cherish. Since there are still sacred places, churches, mountains, forests, statues, and even towns that carry their own beautiful energy, we should keep them as such. Upholding sacredness, and respecting it, allows us, ordinary people, to have at least some kind of an experience, which we too could pursue. Perhaps the encounter with the holy can open up the memory from the depths of someone’s soul, which, when it unfolds, can ignite a great longing to seek it in one’s own heart as well. Because the heart (center) is the one that receives and stores everything beautiful and high as an experience inside it. Visiting sacred places can sometimes change the whole course of a seeker’s life who has longed for change in his life.
Therefore, I do hope and pray, let’s try together to cherish and honor the holy wherever we encounter it. We approach it with humility and without any desires of our own, only experiencing its energy and thanking it. Respect is related to respect for the whole place and for the people who protect it and proper behavior, for example, in a setting like a monastery. In this way, we can also set an example for children, thereby saving the sacred for future generations as well. It is the sacred duty and mission of all of us.
One more time, we hike the mountainside up and down to face the Virgin Mary in her cave chapel. We quiet down and accept the blessing of the place. Then we will begin to shift our thoughts toward the Finnish summer.