The woods are silent as I casually follow the deer tracks in the fresh snow, heading toward the afternoon sun which has become a big blazing ball quickly sinking over the tops of the trees. I wonder how long ago the deer was here, and I stop to look all around.
Starting again, I can feel the cold on my face, and my slow easy steps match the pace of my thoughts. These are not the paths I usually tread. My normal pathways are city streets, office corridors, and airport terminals; and my normal pace is much faster and busier.
A weekend away in the country offers some relief, quiet, and space to think. The Church of the Saviour's Dayspring Farm used to be way out of the city, but the sprawling suburban development of metropolitan Washington, D.C. now virtually surrounds the place. Sinister forms in the shape of town houses and condos have risen up on every border of the retreat center, poised and ready to pounce on the space and solitude. Bulldozers often attack the silence, and new shopping malls threaten to replace prayer and reflection with America's favorite recreational pastime.
But this place of retreat stands firm, almost as a modern parable of resistance to the ever-present encroachments at the boundaries of our lives that would swallow up the space for God and displace the center with the periphery. "Stay back! Keep your distance!" say the woods, the hills, and the fields to the signs of success and progress. "You can't intrude here; this place is for remembering what and who we must not forget lest we lose everything."