It is nearly impossible to describe what happens on a retreat to someone who wasn’t there. On the surface it all sounds simple enough. We talked about God. We played games. We shared meals. We walked on the beach.
Yet. a retreat is so much more than the sum of its activities.
Last weekend, our confirmation class traveled to Craigville Retreat Center on Cape Cod. The best way I can describe what happened in that time is that we formed a beloved community. We put our cell phones away in a box for the full two days. We took time to connect with each other a little more deeply then we might on an ordinary day. We laughed together. We were open and honest with each other. We prayed together, and we strengthened the bonds of trust that connect us.
One of the activities that is always a part of our confirmation class is discussing how we imagine God. We explore the images we have in our mind’s eye about who God is, and we try to learn new ways to see and understand God. We look at pictures of nebulas, forests, sunsets, and cities, and wonder how God is present in each one.
The wisdom and depth of thought of our teenagers never fails to astound me. It shouldn’t surprise me anymore, but somehow it always catches me off guard. Along with the other leaders, I can attest that more often than not all we need to do is offer a circle of sofas and a good question, and our youth bring the insight. They bring the connection to their experience and their lives. They bring the wisdom, the beauty, and the hope. They challenge us to dream bigger for God’s world.
On the last night of our retreat, the youth were adamant that we go to the beach. Their buzz-kill pastor wouldn’t let them go swimming in the 39-degree ocean, but they still wanted to at least visit the water’s edge. When we got to the beach, they ran. They ran together toward the water under the star-soaked night sky, and very quickly I lost sight of them in the dark night.
Walking after them, I eventually came to where they stopped, lying in the sand gazing up at the sky together. They were talking, laughing and full of love and joy.
That sight was an image of God for me. I saw God in them. I saw God in the moment. I encountered God in whatever it was in the ocean air, the starry sky, and the human heart that seemed to pause time and create the connection.
It is among the most precious things I know.