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Center Reflections

Orchard Hill Diary

When Russell told me this story, I asked him to share it with us because I was so struck by the beauty that God revealed to him. Beauty found in “sleeping” lodges, in the blessing of outdoor work that relieves stress and is good for the soul, beauty that God shows to us even in the midst of physical distancing and sheltering in place. May your life be touched by God’s beauty in unexpected ways today!

Orchard Hill Diary

For the past six weeks we have stayed at home, venturing outside only for groceries.  For the first two weeks, we pretended we were on vacation, and caught-up on our reading between doing the household chores.  When boredom set in, I looked-around for projects started and set-aside decades ago.  One in particular I had begun early in our living here—when I had the energies of middle-age.  I call it the garden wall, but it is really four terraces, which transformed the bank of an ugly drainage ditch into something resembling a hanging garden.  We had inherited a pile of rocks from the building contractor who had fled leaving an unsightly mess. It seemed simpler to put them to use than have them hauled away.  So, I built my “walls”, Robert Frost style, and discovered, as he would, that “something there is that does not love a wall, that wants it down.”   I decided that building them up again seemed a better alternative than watching them continue to fall down. 

I remembered a field of rocks along a trail at Orchard Hill—rocks flatter than these, and more suitable for stacking.  So, a few days ago, I loaded-up the wheelbarrow, drove the hourlong drive to Millerstown, and turned onto the mountain road leading to the Center.  But, truth be told, flat rocks can be found along any roadside in Central Pennsylvania.  What I really needed was an excuse to make an inspection tour of the property after so many weeks away.  What I found was a mountain road that—despite the rains—needed no maintenance, a hillside freshly mowed, and trails lovingly groomed. 

As I drove past the retreat center I barely gave it a glance.  How sad, after so many years of tireless work building an off-the-grid lodge we had called “a space for grace,” and there it sat—and probably will continue to sit, for who knows how long–shades drawn, forlorn, useless.  Frost would lament, “Something there is that does not love a… [pick a beloved project of your own here]… that wants it down.” 

Nevertheless, I found my rocks a quarter mile downhill from the trailhead, but didn’t consider how difficult it would be to push them uphill—Sisyphus style—until I had taken about ten steps.  “Yet another exercise in reductio ad absurdum!”  Or so I thought.

My grandmother had a Biblical text for every difficulty she faced, and one would appear during my upward trek:  “My Father never stops working and that is why I keep working.”  [John 5:17 CEV].  When I was at the top of the hill, I looked the lodge full in the face.  No longer forlorn, it seemed to be sleeping, resting for the day when it will resume the mission for which it was created.  In the meantime, we are working to create an online presence and develop a virtual “space for grace.”  In the meantime, “..He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” [Psalm 121:34 RSV].   ~Russell Hart


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