I have been an attendee of the weekend women’s retreat at Camp Chickagami in Presque Isle since 2017 and it has never disappointed. Each time I have been blessed to meet and learn from new women of faith, and deepen my relationship with those I already know. There are also copious amounts of wine, which tends to help these things.
It is a good thing to spend time with God in community. This idea is at the heart of spiritual retreats and Christian camp as well. We draw near to God together.
We miss something if we do not spend time with God in community. Do I have passionate heart to hearts with God while walking on the bike path in town? Yes. Do God and I work through the joys, sorrows, and hopes of the day as I SUP around Wiggins lake? Of course. But there is more to knowing God than a series of heartfelt one on ones. If discipleship was all about quiet walks in the woods, Jesus would have entered our world as a tree instead of a screaming baby human.
Retreats: in the woods, at a monastery, or within a church fellowship hall are chances for us to know God better through knowing ourselves and knowing others. We get to glimpse God at work in the lives and experiences of those who join us in community. Sometimes those glimpses are glorious: a kind word or inspiring story. Other times, they are anything but: a viewpoint that goes against or even undermines our own or a remark that leaves us angry and hurt. Such interactions make living in community difficult. They can ruin a retreat. They can send us running to find another church or a quiet path through the woods.
But Jesus is no tree. In these days, God speaks to us in human words. And, more often than not, it is the difficult words which end up changing our hearts.
Such is the Lord we follow. One who sees a group of people arguing and sulking and says “yes, that’s my church!” One who dwells in an imperfect community and claims it as beloved. One who is an expert at loving cranky and crabby people, and dares us to do the same. One who invites us to practice such love on one another and then says again “yes, that’s my church.”
A Christian retreat or a day in church may not be as peaceful as a walk in the woods, but I do promise you, it is a sure way to be surprised, unnerved, and ultimately loved by God.