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Seeking A Sanctuary | By Sherrie James

02/01/2009 12:54PM ● Published by Anonymous

Perched 30 feet in the air, nestled in the Pisgah National Forest in the mountains of North Carolina, is a tree house waiting for those who seek spiritual retreat.

Talk about getting away from it all. If the holidays were about excess and a new year is about renewal, it’s time to plan your next working holiday. Just call it a project for the soul.

Dozens of religious retreats are scattered throughout North Carolina, many open to visitors pursuing quiet getaways and personal enlightenment. Most offer simple accommodations and meals for modest prices. Amenities aren’t always part of the package, but peace and time for reflection are guaranteed.

Retreat centers come in many forms, log cabins to large camps, elaborate mountain lodges to, yes, a simple tree house. Some are self-directed. Others are led by a knowledgeable individual or teacher. But the unifying element is the intentional setting aside of time and the getting away from the norm.

Live, eat and pray with the Benedictine monks at Belmont Abbey near Charlotte. Attend a seminar at The Cove, the famous Blue Ridge Mountain retreat center founded by Billy Graham. Worship on the wooden benches at the simple outdoor chapel at our own Camp Dixie.

The Bible tells us that Jesus often went off by himself to meditate and pray. Monks and nuns from many faiths leave much of the world behind in order to spend time in solitude. Muslims are called to make pilgrimages. In fact, most faiths stress the importance of seclusion and quiet, especially in today’s often stressful and hectic world.

And with North Carolina’s scenic mountains and serene coast, communing with nature couldn’t be easier. Several Web sites make it simple to find sanctuary, but here are a few places to find your own getaway:

What could be more peaceful than your own personal retreat center? Stonehaven Christian Retreat Center is located in Little Switzerland, halfway between Asheville and Boone. Owner Harritta Turner, who lives off site, opens the entire house to individuals or groups. “Stonehaven has one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the mountains,” she said, “and one can sense the special presence of the Lord around the grounds and facilities.”

Turner said Christians who want to focus on being closer to God or find a more holistic point of view can find a quiet place here. It’s open, she said, to “Those who want to get away from the stress of life and spend time in nature.”

Information: www.stonehaven.hypermart.net

Mountain Light Sanctuary is located near Asheville. Michael Lightweaver describes his mountain cove as the ideal sanctuary. “It is the perfect place to read, write, paint, meditate, or to use as your base camp for exploring endless miles of national forest trails into the mountains,” he said.

Nature abounds with creeks, nature trails and gardens. Hikes are encouraged as long as visitors stay on the marked paths. Others prefer to just sit and meditate in a cultivated area like the Japanese garden. If that’s not enough, Mountain Light offers the opportunity to extremely connect with nature by spending the night in the retreat center’s tree house. Bathroom facilities aren’t offered, naturally, and you have to reach your room by rope ladder, but it definitely is a true getaway.

Information: www.mtnlightsanctuary.com

Not into tree houses?

If this sounds like a little too much nature, most denominations offer (brick and mortar) retreat centers and camps. While these are open to members of their own respective congregations, most eagerly welcome individuals, too. Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, but its rooms, cabins and camp sites are open to anyone. So are the facilities at Montreat Conference Center, which welcomes thousands of members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) every year.

Retreats can be as structured – or unstructured – as you like. Fill your days with seminars or set off to explore the beauty of spring colors. A five-day retreat at Valle Crucis, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, offers yoga, meditation, expressive arts and, most importantly, deep rest and relaxation.

And really, isn’t that what retreat is all about?

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