Candlelit Labyrinth

August 31, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Religion 

This past Thursday, I went up to Camp Johnsonburg for one day of Family Camp.  It was good to reconnect with friends from years gone by.  I had some conversations that may help my faith growth and/or discernment processes.

This was the last full day of Family Camp for the week.  As a result in the evening there was the special Communion vespers service (I ended up reading the scripture).

After the service, Lorelei led a candlelight labyrinth.  At Camp Johnsonburg there is an outdoor labyrinth made of stones laid on the forest floor under some trees.  At the center is a big tree with a cross leaning against it.  The camp tradition is to carry a stone with you while walking the labyrinth, and to leave it at the foot of the cross when you are done.  The labyrinth has been there 10 years – the stones are in a huge pile covering the bottom 1/2 of the 5′ cross.

I’ve walked this labyrinth during the day alone, during the day with campers of all ages, and twice in the winter as part of a retreat.  Each walk is a different experience (even when you lead it 4 times a day with campers).  But the candlelight labyrinth is VERY different.

I helped set up the candles.  We took tea lights and placed them on flattened silver foil cupcake papers laid on flat rocks around the labyrinth.  Just before we arrived, a few of the Leadership Training Program reunion youth lit them.

It was late twilight when we arrived, and fully dark (on a cloudy night) when we were done.  At the beginning of my personal walk, I was able to see the path without the candles.  By the time I finished walking all the way in and then retracing the path out I could only see the path WITH the help of the candles – and then just barely.  For the first time that I’d walked this labyrinth I was uncertain of my path.  (Indeed, one youth tried to finish and kept accidentally jumping paths.  He gave up and walked out across the stones when he was still going 10 minutes after everybody else.)
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As I write this I’ve been unemployed for over a year.  While I continue to perform my church duties and even take on additional ones, I’m struggling with God:  both with some kind of sense of call, and with frustration with my continued joblessness.  I’ve reached a point where I feel like I believe in God, but I don’t think God believes in me.  And yet I still feel drawn to God and to the religious world and life in some form.  It’s very confusing and very painful.

As I walked this time, a metaphor became clear to me.  I experienced it as a future sermon illustration.  The candles were like God’s presence in the flame (Holy Spirit, if you will).  I had walked this labyrinth many times, but THIS time I was uncertain of the path.  I was only able to see the path with the help of the candles.  So then go parts of our lives?  Only able to see the path with God’s aid?  God is with us assisting us to find our path?

For now it’s just a future sermon illustration and I don’t feel like it applies to me.  I do feel rather abandoned by God.  But perhaps there will be a day when God finally gets around to giving me a path or showing me what the path is, and this metaphor will be more concrete for me.

Next year I’ll be President of the Deacons and need to preach, so at the very least I have an idea to file away for 18 months or so.

May you find your path, and help others find theirs, with God’s help.

Reconnecting with Faith – Finding Your Home retreat 2007 – How’d it go?

January 29, 2007 by · 8 Comments
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

Reconnecting with Faith Retreat 2007 Group

The Reconnecting with Faith – Finding Your Home retreat was a big success this past weekend at Camp Johnsonburg!

We had 10 paying participants, plus 4 staff (and a few other camp folks floating in and out during the weekend).  The participants were a very diverse group in several dimensions.  We had people from age 20-something to age “I don’t want to guess and be wrong”.  We had people in churches, people not in churches, and people looking at alternatives to Christianity.  We had some racial diversity.  We had theological diversity in that we had folks all along the spectrum from conservative to progressive.  Most of us came from a Presbyterian (PCUSA) background, and there were a few Catholics in the group.  We had 3 couples, a few singles, and a few married folks whose spouses didn’t attend.

The weather was a bit cold (particularly Friday, though it wasn’t the 4-degree F cold that the camp folks had to put up with before we arrived Friday morning).  There was just the right amount of snow on the ground; we got a little each night – just enough to cover the ground but not enough to slow us down.  The lake was frozen over except for an oval about 1/3 of the size of the lake.  The geese and swans were camped out on the frozen part.

We began the weekend by doing some get-to-know-you games Friday evening, followed by some fellowship and food time.  We also outlined the Johnsonburg standard core values of “No Discount” (of yourself or others), “Challenge by Choice” and Permission-Giving.  Because some of the participants knew each other outside of the retreat and the knowledge that someone might want to leave their church could be dangerous in the wrong hands, we added a new rule – “What happens at Johnsonburg stays at Johnsonburg”.

Saturday morning, we had a very emotional and uplifting session where each group member was able to tell the story of their faith journey.  These stories brought the group even closer together and allowed each to unburden themselves of the reasons that they might be looking to join a church or switch churches or leave the church.  A participant said it best:  “Mark and I can’t really do justice to the beauty of the stories that were told at the retreat this weekend.”

Saturday afternoon we did some brainstorming: what people wanted in a faith community, what people were looking to avoid in a faith community, and what stumbling blocks were keeping them from making progress in discerning whether or not to join a faith community and if so, which.  This session provided some good ideas for each person when they are considering a new faith community.

Saturday afternoon we had some free time.  Some of us took a 4-mile hike along the Yellow and Red Trails, while others connected with each other, relaxed, or even napped.  The camp canteen was open for a while so that folks could purchase a souvenir of their retreat experience.

Saturday evening, we completed the afternoon activity by brainstorming ideas on how to look for a new church.  Use of the Internet, friends, neighbors, coworkers, church visits, church staff and other resources were highlighted.  Those who had taken this route before were able to add their own experience to the bounty of ideas.

Reconnecting with Faith Spirituality 101

We then experienced a fascinating lecture – Spirituality 101.  In 90 minutes, our retreat’s minister leader went through the breadth of spiritual options in the world, along with the options within Christianity and the historical reasons for the number of denominations that we have.  It was amazing – I’ve had full semester religion classes that contained less information than this presentation.
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Reconnecting with Faith Fellowship

Later Saturday evening we had food and fellowship again, with S’mores and Banana Boats cooked on the fireplace in the dining hall.

Camp Johnsonburg labyrinth in winter

Sunday morning after breakfast (including a wonderful body prayer for grace) we began with Quiet Time.  A number of the group ventured out into the cold to walk the camp’s outdoor labyrinth in the quiet stillness of the sunny winter morning.

We followed that with a worship service planned by the retreat participants WITHOUT the aid of the religious professionals.  The service was very camp-like and yet still had all of the reverence of a church service.

After worship we concluded with evaluations, lunch, and an invitation to enjoy the camp facilities for the rest of the day.

For this retreat, the people ARE the program.  I’d like to thank the folks pictured above for their wonderful contributions.  I’d also like to thank all of them for the mutual respect that we all felt – in this era of Christians tearing each other apart we were able to assemble a group from all parts of the spectrum who worked together to help each other while respecting the conscience of each of us.

I’d also like to thank the Johnsonburg staff who helped plan/staff/support the retreat – including Lorelei, Kurt, Alicia, Harry, Josh, Shelly, and everybody else.  Additionally, I’d like to thank Dave Myers, who served as our minister-in-residence and all-around expert on things religious.

Based on feedback received, there’s a pretty good chance that we’ll try to do this retreat again.  Watch this space or the camp website sometime this fall for more information.  As I’ve stated before, any suggestions on how to advertise this retreat to the target audience (particularly those NOT in a church at the moment) would be appreciated.

If you have any questions about this retreat, please feel free to contact Lorelei at the camp or me.