On Thursday, ST. Columba and Centennial will meet once again for a ColoESC retreat. This time, we have a bunch of fun things planned, a couple to host us and a wintery mountainside to enjoy. When applying for ESC, I found the retreats an attractive quality over similar service organizations. Other programs didn’t offer the same number of retreats, which seemed to me to be a real shame for the overall formation impact. On one hand, it’s an opportunity to change up the regular flow of work-weekend-work-weekend, which I find will renew my spirits even if I complain about every little thing related to the trip. On the other hand, retreats allow for some much needed time to release the steam on the pressure cooker that is our service experience. Additionally, two critical things will happen for me during this retreat; I will get to sleep in until 7 or 8 am – a couple hours later than my normal 5:45 am wake up and I will get to journal.
When I first decided to do this “Jesus thing”, as Christianity was so lovingly referred to by some people associated with my former lifestyle, retreats were a comfort. Let me tell you a little bit about how my college ministry retreats were structured:
1. 100-200 people would take part in our Fall retreat in the middle of nowhere Illinois.
2. We held 3 services daily so the bulk of the teaching would take place in front of the whole group.
3. Small groups were assigned and could not be with people you felt comfortable with. Ok, maybe you could have 1 friend, they weren’t so cruel.
4. Night times were made for FUN. I mean massive games of hide and seek, rolling down hills in old tractor tires and flirty bonfires for boys and girls that needed a reason to cuddle.
During my first few experiences I found the most comfort in these two ways; one, I could hide a little bit amongst the crowd when we were in the big group atmosphere and two, I could come out a little when we were in the small groups. I wasn’t great at sharing what was going on in my heart. I wasn’t great at the whole singing songs out loud thing. But I was getting better little by little after the impact of each retreat. Retreats forced me to ride a train of thought for longer than 2 hours. Among my most formative memories for my faith are the moments at Fuel Fall Retreats where something that had stewed for 48 hours let forth a satisfying feast.
As time went on, retreats were a place for me to COME ALIVE, like dressing up as Effie Trinket to be used as a pawn for the entire group to play with. Or, like approaching students that God had placed on my heart and praying, out loud with them. These 2-3 day long trips proved to be a place for me to experience the heavy, deep and real side of my faith. I think that’s why I wanted to be a part of a program that offered intentional retreat space for the community. Knowing that I would have some long simmering stews during my year with ESC, I wanted a place where I could ride my heavy, deep and real train for an extended period of time and release the steam. (My the metaphors are confusing me!)
Our first retreat as a cohort wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for (I’m not sure that’s a story I’d like to write this year) so I am looking forward to a more positive result after this retreat. Here are the top 5 things I’ll be taking to the retreat to stew with:
1. How do I love my corps-mates like Jesus?
2. What ways can I improve my communication with the students at my workplace and my corps-mates?
3. How can I take my faith into the workplace more aptly without trying to evangelize every person I meet?
4. How do I cope with all the tragedy my students deal with in light of the Gospel and the goodness of God?
5. How can I let go of expectation and live in anticipation?
I have participated in only a dozen of retreats, but I can firmly say I count on them. I have been told many times that resting and retreating are crucial to the mental success of a Christian. Not only is it a Christ practice, it’s a critical soul practice. To get in line with the stews and heavy thoughts we have to deal with, we have to sit in silence and listen for the voice of God. ESPECIALLY if the voice of God is a still small voice. In my experience, when I let a thought stick around for a little while, ask God for help to figure it out and then wait for some holy perspective, I get the still small voice to expand.
At ST. Columba, we often talk about how each of us can rest. For me, it’s morning prayer and retreats. I can fill up for months’ worth of pouring out during a solid 48 hour retreat. That’s my plan for this weekend. Rest and retreat to fill up. Pour it out on those God has brought us to. Repeat until sanctified with Christ.