Begin Here: there have been two movies made from James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon. The moment I love in both movies involves the cave. In the movie version of the story, a group of Americans are fleeing a country under siege and find themselves high jacked on a small plane heading into the Himalayan Mountains. The plane crashes and the pilot is killed. The passengers with almost no provisions await their death in the hull of the aircraft. A few days in they are discovered by members of a community that exists in a mountain valley called Shangri-La. The snow is raging and the wind is devastating and the journey to the valley is arduous and dangerous. The people from the plane are exhausted from the climb and close to surrender when they enter a cave. As they enter the opening, the snow is blowing furiously and as they make their way in they see that it is not a cave but a passageway that opens into a fantastic, verdant valley full of sunshine. They look back at the entrance and see a storm and ahead light and peace. Shangri-La is a utopia where stress and conflict do not exist. There is no illness in Shangri-La and the people who live there strive for harmony and understanding.
I am a Catholic priest celebrating twenty-five years of ministry. It has been a difficult period of time to be a priest: conflicting views on orthodoxy, politics and spirituality, pedophilia and unimaginable shame. Alongside all that, I have found myself required to step into a variety of complex administrative circumstances with remarkably little experience or expertise. Looking back it all seems a bit tumultuous—like the plane crashing in the Himalayans. However, through a remarkable chain of events I find myself today in a small, green valley near the sea on the coast of California. It is unlike any place I have ever lived.
I sail through town virtually traffic free. The residents greet one another in a peaceful and friendly fashion. And the church to which I have been assigned is small, intimate and welcoming. I feel a bit like the survivors of the plane crash in Lost Horizon coming to an enchanted place after a long and difficult journey. It is here in these pages I hope to capture the story of my life and work in a unique setting where I believe God has brought me. All my life I have read stories and watched movies about people going to a strange and wondrous place where amazing things happen. Here I am and the story is about to begin . . .