Mountain Mystery

Once while living in a Jesuit community in Ballymun, Dublin, during my theology studies, Michael Paul Gallagher S.J., gave me a present of a book.

Once while living in a Jesuit community in Ballymun, Dublin, during my theology studies, Michael Paul Gallagher S.J., gave me a present of a book. The book was about ‘The Cairngorms’ and described those massive peaks of North-East Scotland. I read the book and I felt the call despite the long list of fatal mountain accidents in that area.

After my studies in 1991, I cycled across to Scotland and began to climb the 284 Munros (mountains which are over 3000 feet). Each time I come back from Cambodia, I slip across to the Highlands of Scotland to add a few more to the list. I have now reached 186. Two old friends have accompanied me on some of the climbs. However most of the climbing has been in silence and often in bad weather.

ashley cairngorms

On the 23rd of March 2018, I came off my third 30-day silent retreat. This retreat followed the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola which was arranged to help a person discover inner spiritual freedom to love God and others completely. It turns out that I have spent a total of 390 days on silent retreat. It also turns out that I have spent 410 days climbing mountains since my youth (the scouts trained me to keep a log).

During my most recent retreat, I found that those silent mountain days had already enabled much reflection on the mission in Cambodia and on the challenges of trying to live a Christian life in modern society. It seems that battling against gale force winds on a narrow ridge using a map and compass for navigation in the thick mist is a good preparation for facing the spiritual demons and evil spirits which try to lead me astray in my missionary life in Cambodia.

I made the connection this year. I can now make the serenity prayer so loved by members of Alcoholics Anonymous “God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.

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