The ferry pulls away from the dock. We move out into the dark waters of the Juan de Fuca Strait as we leave the shelter of the harbour.

There is a severe wind warning in effect. Environment Canada is predicting potentially “damaging winds” up to 100 kms an hour.

As we move out beyond the shelter of the Ogden Point breakwater, the boat begins to dip and roll.

The lights of the city that has been my home for most of my life recede into the distance. Nothing is visible ahead.

To go on retreat is to choose to enter into the darkness where the normal reference points of life are left behind.

We set aside the distractions and clutter that anesthetise our usual lives keeping us unconscious of the deep mystery that dwells at the edge of normal consciousness. We launch out beyond the safety devices we have built into our lives and enter the terrain of uncertainty.

This is not a journey I take willingly most of the time.

I am a land lover. I cherish the predictable and familiar. I prefer it when the circumstances of my life align according to predictable patterns. The externals of my life have been so steady. I live 60 kms. from the town in which I was born. I am still with the woman to whom I was married 36 years ago. My children live near our home.  Tomorrow is the twentieth anniversary of my appointment to the position I still hold in the church today.

Apart from the inevitable alterations of aging, the external realities of my life have changed little in the last few decades.

But, that is only on the outside. Internally, it feels as if I have lived always in the dark choppy waters of the Juan de Fuca Strait. The only safety I have known on this journey has been the confidence that my life is held by a benevolent power I perceive only vaguely haunting the uncertain boundary land of my consciousness.

When Jesus’ disciples became terrified at sea, he asked them,

‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ (Mark 4:0)

Jesus did not call his disciples to the comforting illusion that there would never be storms. He did not encourage them to believe that they were in control of the forces that swept across their lives. But he did demonstrate that, even when they found themselves tossed on the waves of uncertainty, there remains a force at the centre that does hold.

We go on retreat in order to reconnect with that steady constancy that dwells in a place deeper than the surface turmoil of life.

When we arrive at Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey (http://trappistabbey.org/) later today, we will enter a world in which the externals of life have not substantially changed since late in the seventeenth century. No matter what storms have raged in the world, or what winds have blown through their own lives, the Trappists have faithfully observed the same daily discipline of work and prayer for over four hundred years. The rhythm of their days calls them back to an awareness that, in spite of all the changes that may take place, there is one unchanging reality at the centre of it all.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey bears witness to a reality that I easily forget in the midst of the inner turmoil that so often afflicts my life. The monks faithful lives of prayer, testify to the steady stable reality at the centre of life for which every human heart most deeply longs.