Divine Daytripper Freelance Travel Writer


Citrus Heights, California


Suburban Oasis: Retreat to Citrus Heights
by Ingrid Hart

There is a hidden retreat center in the City of Citrus Heights that’s been there since 1949. Imagine 29 oak-tree rich acres, in the middle of a suburban area, preserved just for contemplation and prayer. I am here for the weekend at this secret oasis called Christ the King Passionist Retreat Center. I am with a group of 69 women who will search for their spiritual center through gentle introspection and quiet meditation. There will be insight, some laughter, and a tender, graceful healing.

The first of our six group sessions begins on a Friday night with an introduction of our three leaders: Brother Kurt, Father David, and Sister Marcella. They are from the Catholic order called the Passionists. We sit in blue hard-back chairs, theatre-style in the Quinn Room. There are large windows and I gaze at hundred-year old oak trees and a grassy meadow. Father David is a youthful, enthusiastic storyteller dressed in a black friar robe with Birkenstock sandals who makes us laugh and groan in equal parts by telling a joke about almost falling off a horse. Turns out his yuk-yuk yarn is about an electric kiddie horse-ride outside of K-mart. Breaking up the intensity with laughter sets the tone for all future sessions.

Father David asks us to reflect on a reading. In summary, our daily lives are busy with people to meet, projects to finish, calls to make and appointments to keep—we are like an over packed suitcase bursting at the seams. Yet we always feel behind schedule—a lingering sense remains of never fulfilling our obligations. In short, while our lives are full, we are unfulfilled. Why? We don’t make time for contemplation and prayer. Our lack of awareness blocks us from experiencing our true center, and with it, fulfillment.

With that profound insight, I silently make way to my austere dorm room in the “old building.” I unpack my emotional suitcase bursting at the seam, slip into my single bed, turn out the light, and fall into a deep slumber.


Morning Has Broken

In the morning I wake and don’t attend mass—the Catholic service. I stay behind and write in my journal which is my own spiritual practice I’ve embraced for the last five years since my divorce.

Later, I walk around the peaceful retreat grounds. I feel rested and tranquil. The air smells clean after the rain. I see orange trees, holly trees, and tall redwood trees. A camellia is in full bud and like me, waiting to bloom. I see a flock of eight wild turkeys wandering the grounds. Birds chirp as I walk a moss-covered path across a bridge to the Stations of the Cross. In the distance I hear the lone whistle of a train, the siren of an ambulance, and the drone of traffic. This place was built in 1949 as a retreat center out in the country. Who could have imagined then that now these 29 acres are an oasis surrounded by sprawling suburbia?

Retreats at this haven are year-round and varietal. There are retreats for all-men and all-women; a 12-step program for men and women in recovery; engaged encounters for couples contemplating marriage; married couples; families; New Year’s reflection; Easter observance; and even a six-day silence-directed retreat. The cost starts at $160 for a weekend including a room and nutritious, buffet-style meals.

According to Program Director Brother Kurt, a tall, benevolent man, these Passionist retreats exist worldwide because in 1740, St. Paul of the Cross began this spiritual work. “He was personally devoted to the retreat experience as a way to deepen one’s relationship with divine presence. He knew well the power of both solitude and shared spirituality, and made retreats available to his contemporaries.”


Take a Walk on the Mild Side

The rhythm of the retreat flows like a gentle river making its way to the sea. I attend class, dine, read, nap, and enjoy a half-hour massage. By late Saturday afternoon, the sun begins its descent in the Quaalude sky. My spirit feels nourished and filled. I find my way to the retreat’s metaphor for life’s journey: the labyrinth.

A labyrinth is a circle whose pathway is a meandering third-mile of which a person walks. Imagine a maze with no dead-ends—you can’t get lost as long as you remain on the path, of which there is only one. It leads you to the center and then returns along the same path. Understand Grasshopper? The ancient, prayerful labyrinth is a spiritual tool that’s meant to awaken our connection between soul and spirit.

I enter the brick-in-sand pathway of this sacred space and can’t help but giggle when I ask myself how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop? It turns out to be about 15 minutes to get to the four-leaf clover center of this labyrinth. It is a mild day and since no one else is present for the soul-spirit connection in this quadrant of the retreat center, I sit cross-legged yoga style in the middle. I own this labyrinth. The warm sun shines on my face and I feel a comfort and peace in my existence. For an instant I panic—did I remember to apply sunscreen this morning? Yes. I release and continue to meditate. Am I in an alpha, beta, or theta state of deep relaxation? I release again. My monkey mind gears down another notch. After a few minutes I exhale. The center of this spiritual Tootsie Pop is indeed sweet. I am held.

He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother

On the last day of the retreat, a Sunday, I attend an early-morning prayer at the retreat’s crown jewel—its dainty chapel. Later, I eat a breakfast of French toast, sausage, and orange juice, then off to a final session on sacred scripture. I must depart before the retreat is officially over. I go back to my Spartan room, pack my much-lighter suitcase, change the sheets on my bed, and try to sneak away like a thief in the night.

Brother Kurt, the congenial man who only 18 hours earlier gave me a 20-minute counseling session, leaves his office at the exact same moment I am making my hasty withdrawal. Rats. Busted. Doh! “You will be joining us for Sunday mass won’t you?” he asks me, so earnest in his request. Ah, actually, that would be a no. “Nah, I can’t,” I say, not letting on I was going to meet two beloved friends for lunch and then worship at the altar of the Consumnes River Nature Preserve. In the true spirit of goodwill, he absolved my guilt. “Okay, maybe next time.” He offered me a last bit advice regarding my counseling session and said goodbye.

Was it divine timing? Maybe. Life is the great mystery. Either way after this special time at the retreat center, I felt much lighter than when I arrived. There is a cleansing and a renewal. I am ready to begin again.

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