OPINION: Cow Catcher Collection
Tuesday, September 11, 2012 4:44 AM
The world is back. It clamors for attention. All my nerve cells seem to be tingling for electronic stimulation. And I am almost famished with an appetite for words. It's 4 a.m. Monday morning.
What has felt like a perfect summer came to a close this weekend by attending a three-day retreat with Central Peninsula Church's Higher Power group at Redwood Glen in Loma Mar, Calif.
This lodge and campground in the towering redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains hosts many retreats and family outings for Christians in the Bay Area. Just traveling there and back is half the fun.
How do I prepare for a retreat was the question that preoccupied me all day Thursday, as I gathered up supplies and relished an unexpected extra day off from work.
I took out a slim volume of "A Retreat with JOHN the Evangelist...that you may have life" by Raymond E. Brown, St. Anthony Messenger Press.
My only prior experience with retreats was in books. The primary function of a retreat is spending time with Jesus. And previously, it was almost entirely in my head.
This time it traveled down into my heart and became personal and intimate with others in communion and fellowship and openness.
Neither my friend nor I had ever been on a retreat, and we took one detour in the last remaining hours, chanting gleefully, "going to the beach, to the beach, to the beach, going to the beach," our summer mantra.
We grabbed snacks at the little general store in Pescadero and went beach hopping along coast Highway #1.
Our ears filled with roar of surf as it climbed over the tide pools. We both wondered what this experience would hold for us.
We searched the horizon for whales sporting or for a glimpse of a traveling pod of dolphins. A sea lion poked up his head, and my friend greeted him with, "Hello, Booger!"
We were not alone. Three other friends from our own church, including our pastor, also made the journey in separate cars. Up and down the parking lot, we recognized friends from our Friday night group in Foster City.
Everyone lugged baggage into the lodge and checked in. We parted briefly and found our separate rooms, wondering what stranger we might be rooming with. We both ended up with people we knew.
Everyone was sharing the nervousness of leaving technology behind and entering into the silence of the forest. We all felt some anxiety by being more transparent with others and getting to know each other in a new setting.
We all were checking our cell phones, quickly discovering there was no signal. I resisted the overwhelming urge to take my laptop along.
The itinerary for the event was passed out with our keys. There would be worship, small meetings, skits and fun. It would begin with worship.
A musician had traveled from Albuquerque and the guest pastor was from Scottsdale, Ariz. There we all were, the regulars from Friday night's Higher Power Service, facing a wall of windows picturing the towering redwoods and deer grazing on the lawn below us.
A lot of years of quality recovery came together to celebrate the new life of freedom from bondage and addictions and simple human brokenness healed.
I decided to empty myself of all expectations and enter fully into the experience without preconceptions or expectations. A retreat sometimes precedes surrender with its ironic twist of victory.
Every free unstructured moment, my friend and I shot off into the woods and hiked for hours. We plunged into the canyon below and spying a creek, we climbed down a steep gorge choked with brush and emerged in a pristine hollow by the singing water.
The cliff face behind us looked ominous for a climb so we detoured for miles to follow other trails and roads back to camp. We lagged in just in time to catch the tail end of dinner.
On Saturday afternoon, the main event was a baptism in the swimming pool. Four new people made the outward sign of their death to self and rebirth into a glorious new kingdom. Our pastor dunked them under.
It is perfectly fine that such practices might alienate outsiders and scoffers who might not understand such matters of faith.
Three deer stood nearby outside the fence, and my friend suggested they symbolized the Trinity, and we could almost feel divinity breathing a message to the poolside believers, "These are my beloved children with whom I am well-pleased."
I was glad to embrace our faith practices publicly after completing my summer Anthropology of Religion course, where every arcane and esoteric practice of every other imaginable religion was studied and viewed dispassionately.
The inner stirrings throughout the retreat affirmed praise for God's glorious creation and breathtaking beauty and perhaps the best gift of all, being able to share it freely and openly with other once-broken and twice-born people.
We dined richly on the fruits of the spirit and the joy was evident in happy, beaming faces. As the pastor taught, I leaned back in my chair and lost the battle to keep my eyes open, and thought how nice it was to be old and forgiven for dozing off in inappropriate places.
He later heartily shook my hand with a wistful twinkle in his eyes and a humility that wasn't offended by my laxness.
On Sunday afternoon, after sharing communion, it was over too soon. We loaded our bags into the cars, warmly hugged all our new friends, and naturally, turned left and raced back to the ocean.
We stopped at a goat farm in Pescadero and bought fresh berries from a roadside stand.
Whatever inner workings had occurred, we kept to ourselves, and soon found ourselves searching for spouts in the sea just off Pigeon Point Lighthouse and watching the surf crash on Prisoner Rock.
We could not let go. Whatever our personal reflections had gathered, they needed to stew inside awhile longer before returning to our everyday lives.
We beach hopped halfway to Santa Cruz and back and encountered countless deer on the night drive back to the peninsula.
The beautiful people were still partying at Alice's Restaurant in Woodside as we passed. Three more deer walked in front of us just before the panorama of the peninsula's lights shined below us. The mountains kissed us goodbye.
I lugged my backpacks into my apartment, my phone charging in the car on the way home. I couldn't wait to text! I couldn't wait to turn on my computer, to blare on my television.
And then I laughed at myself and shut them all off. There was only one fitting way to close this weekend, in the unlikely position of being down on my knees in thanks for all the blessings and remarkable people that abound me.