I recently returned from a church Men’s Retreat in the resort town of Lenk, Switzerland. This was MY kind of ‘retreat.’ The majority of our two days was spent on the ski slopes, not talking about God and theology and right and wrong.


I’ve been a Christian since I was 8, so the pastoral lectures and Bible verses never feel especially new to me.

I routinely enjoy the music, and in our case a great band led those times in the evenings, but I was happy to attend a retreat that was mostly just a cheap ski vacation. I met some cool guys, got a little better on a snowboard, and stood in absolute awe at some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever known.


I don’t worship God very well through study, or through listening to lectures from pastors. Lectures, ever, haven’t worked well with my brain. Ask any teacher of mine all the way back to 1st grade and you’ll probably get some version of the same mildly exasperated half-smile, and a reply along the lines of, “he really, really TRIED to give a crap.”



But when I’m in the shadow of the Swiss Alps, with 1,000 year old glaciers clinging to jagged sawtooth ridges in a 300-degree ring all around me, I pay attention. Somehow, breathing in crystal-pure air, with rolling forests and organic dairy farms dotting the countryside in every direction far below me, I have no problem thinking about God and wondering how I couldn’t possibly be closer to His almighty Spirit for that moment.

So, it was a spiritual time for me, but with very little preaching or Bible-studying. Perfect.


I was also struck by the unity and beauty of the towns we passed through on our way to Lenk. Switzerland has been highly resistant to change over the years, from what little I’ve read of the country. It is fairly hard to immigrate there, and once you ARE there, good luck building consensus around any particular idea or religious creed that departs from the time-honored ways of the Swiss. Du willst ein Minaret? Das wird nie passieren!

Deutsch: Chalet in Pöschenried, Gemeinde Lenk,...
These, dotting the countryside as far as you can see. Plus snow when it’s winter.



In Switzerland, you know you are in Switzerland. Especially in the countryside. The buildings are stirringly beautiful, most made of a light-colored wood sometimes set on dazzling white painted rock or concrete bases. The barns looks related to the houses. Everything is clean, ordered, pristine.

This unity isn’t by accident. But it takes enormous force of will to maintain a cultural identity in an increasingly pluralistic and mobile society. To do so inevitably becomes political, with increasingly volatile arguments on either side.

My homeland, America, has never really had a unity of culture and history to this degree. We’re a nation of very few subjugated natives, and very very many immigrants. To walk through my country – or any large American city – is to walk around the world.

Both have their merits (except for our treatment of the natives). But there’s something so deeply peaceful about meandering through a place that knows itself so well. A place that is OLD, and has not forgotten the value of of old things. King Solomon was rewarded by God with power and money because when God offered to give Solomon anything he wanted, the young man asked for wisdom. Any place that honors age, honors wisdom, and God seems to have blessed the Swiss accordingly.

I’m not saying Switzerland is paradise or utopia. There are problems. But they’re getting lots of things right. Here, walking is revered over driving. Food is valued for quality and purity rather than quick access or cost.The country has some of the best health care access in the world, with 3.6 doctors and 10.7 nurses per 1000 people. Life expectancy is around 73 years old. Obesity is less than 8% (it’s almost 50% in the U.S.), and it is estimated that 100% of the population has access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities.

As a Caucasian from the American suburbs, with no knowledge of my heritage further back than my grandparents, this place holds an impossible appeal for me. I don’t know my family history, whether a story of thieves or kings. My nation’s history doesn’t even span 300 years.

As our retreat drew to a close, I knew I could never truly be a part of a place like Lenk, Switzerland. I could only marvel and yearn, watching that priceless world slip past my car window, as we hurried home.


4 thoughts on “Lenk

  1. Dee Harris

    For me, GOD is present in that quiet we allow ourselves when marvelling HIS work. Nature proclaims worship and inspires me to do likewise. I too appreciate the ‘old’ and we do well to embrace it, for in it lies many lessons for the future. I have enjoyed reading your post.


  2. well, hello! what a lovely thing to find in my mailbox, a new post from you. on perceiving god: whatever it takes! as my world narrows, shrinks, god is in cats’ eyes and fur, coffee and quiet, raucous music, and the old, beloved words. but i guess i can understand the alps’ inspiration, if i squint and furrow my brow! (here at marlinspike hall, we are neighbors to a group of cistercians, the only cloistered community west of my country’s Lone Alp; you’d think that would make easy the realization of godly things, but mostly we have border disputes.)

    i’m very glad that you mentioned the “minaret” affair, as it fleshes out the quaint love of the old chez the swiss. and it makes you ask, after a good chuckle, is a minaret a mosque?

    same as you, i can’t trace my family tree to anything resembling a tap root, but love the mystery of my grandfather, orphan from ireland, and whose face always shimmers seductively in my head whenever i think of the good lord.

    how is your work with the wounded warriors? one so wants to hear that it is “slacking off” — in pace, at least.

    best of luck to you and yours and all you do! please write more often…

    profderien, doubling as bianca castafiore

    p.s. i’m such a klutz that exiting a ski lift proved one of my greatest challenges. also, though doubtless you know this already, never ski in jeans.


    1. So nice to hear from you, old friend! (“old” is the friendship, not necessarily those involved)

      It is my goal to write more often, and I’m honored that you would ask me to up the pace. It’s hard not to be distracted by life, much as I love the craft of formulating thoughts for the page.

      In the 20-book Aubrey-Maturin series about the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars by Patrick O’Brien, Jack Aubrey regularly laments times of peace because it’s basically bad for his business of sailing around the world and attacking enemies. Typically, he also recognizes the irony and tragedy of wishing for war, but is routinely reminded that he is ill-suited to life on land (he often loses money in bad investments, runs afoul of powerful Parlimentary figures, falls on the losing side of most political disputes).

      The Army, especially in Europe, is in a similar place as Aubrey, currently. Who’r they supposed to shoot these days? Nobody? Huh. Well, now wadda we do? Peace is boring when you have a gun in your hand.

      So, no, not nearly as many wounded soldiers. But bored ones. And poor ones. The Army never does well when it is irrelevant, nor do the soldiers that comprise it.

      More soon….



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