For many years, my Christmas present to myself has been an end-of-year retreat at the Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester.
It began in the 1980s, when I lived in Boston and traveled by train for a retreat which at that time ended on Jan. 1. It now begins on Dec. 27 and ends on Dec. 30, providing a time and space to gather together in silence with others to celebrate the Christmas season and experience the hope of a new year.
The first time I ever stayed at a retreat house was in 1974, when two friends and I traveled from New York to the Middletown, Connecticut Cenacle. A talkative person, it took a few days to appreciate the value of silence and by that time, the retreat was over.
But I returned several times after that to talk with Cenacle Sisters, curious about what I sensed was something special in that place.
The peace I found there puzzled me. I lived alone and could pray anytime; why did I need a retreat house?
I finally realized that, at home, the silence was filled with thoughts of things I should or could be doing, like cleaning my apartment or watching TV. A retreat is a time to leave my everyday routine, in order to listen and appreciate God’s constant presence in my life.
Instead of Christmas presents or New Year’s resolutions, I pray with gratitude for the gifts of family, friends and the joy I find in outdoor activities — walking along the shore or through the woods at Halibut Point or Ravenswood Park, and participating in downhill skiing Elderhostel (aka Road Scholar) ski programs. I also thank God for the less-than-joyful times when I become aware of how much I take for granted.
For almost 20 years, I’ve participated in two or three weeks of Elderhostel ski programs in New England and Canada but recently, I rediscovered the joy of skiing locally at Bradford, only 30 miles away. The senior rate for morning skiing (8:30 a.m. to 1p.m.) is $13 and for me, mornings are the best time for everything — whether it’s making tracks in freshly groomed slopes or watching the sunrise from my kitchen window as I enjoy my first cup of tea each morning.