I heard giggles. It was dark and I wasn’t sure who was behind me. We had departed the crackling campfire and were traversing the starlit path back to our lodge. “What is it?” I asked, not wanting to miss out on a good joke. And then these two young women in their 20s and 30s told me a funny story about their new 60-plus-year-old friend. None of these women had met 36 hours before. Now they were friends. Not just acquaintances. But spiritual mentors to one another, guides along the way that life takes us.
This scene and countless others like it unfolded at VIA, a spiritual life retreat, held at Tall Oaks Conference Center, the beautifully wooded camp and conference center just 45 minutes west of the church near Bonner Springs. It was a stunningly gorgeous fall weekend. We hiked in short sleeves, the leaves crunching under our feet. We sang four-part harmony around the fire. We did yoga. We practiced new ways of prayer and talked about the twists and turns in our own personal journeys where we have discovered something of the holy unfolding in our lives.
Sometimes what we need most is to just get away. The spirit is ever present within us and around us but between taxiing a kid to the dentist, caring for an aging relative, coaching soccer, and juggling the demands of the office, we scarcely notice anything divine. Even 36 hours just 30 miles from home can be enough to calm the noise of the heart so that we can attune our spirits to God’s.
Sometimes we just need to know that we are not alone. Trying to walk in the ways of Jesus isn’t always clearly marked. Companions help us through the detours and dead ends. We learn how to parent, how to pray, how to be married, how to risk the unknown when we discover fellow travelers on the path of faith who share in the struggle. Wisdom unfolds in between us.
In 2017, two more VIA retreats will be offered: men in the spring and women in the fall. The retreats will be identical to the two retreats offered in 2016 – but with all new participants. If your spiritual journey would be enhanced by a little time away and by deeper friendships with companions headed in that same direction, consider signing up. (If you have young children, we will offer childcare at the church on Saturday so that the other parent will have some help.)
A few years ago I took a 48 hour retreat up in Atcheson, Missouri. The minute I stepped away and settled into the quieter pace and reflective atmosphere, I knew that everyone, not just clergy, need time to refuel, refresh, renew. So I started dreaming about ways to make a 48 hour retreat possible for everyone in the church. I imagined that if Dad’s could step away from the pressures of the office, the chores, the running from soccer to baseball to piano lessons and if Mom’s could relax and breathe without the demands of board meetings, birthday parties, and taxing kids from the dentist etc, that they would be able to hear the winds of the Spirit filling up their souls again. I pictured that those new to church and those who had been here for decades would together find their way to a life of prayer that is meaningful. That old and young would form friendships that are deeper than the ‘ho- hum how are you’ conversations we share in the parlor.
I am happy to report that over 70 men and women have now completed VIA. And the good news is that we will repeat these retreats next fall and spring so that 100 more of you who have not yet been to VIA will have the chance. Next year’s VIA retreats will be replicas of this years. In April, Joe Walker and Glen Miles will lead the men’s VIA. And next fall in October, Monica Lewis and I will lead the women’s. And to make it easier on the parent left behind, complimentary childcare will be provided on Saturday at the church.
VIA means “the way.” All of us are on “the way” and all of us can grow in our ability to walk the way more faithfully. On night as I was walking back to my cabin after the closing campfire at VIA, I heard two of the younger women giggling. What is it I asked, “Oh we just love Annie” They were talking about one of the older women they had met while at VIA. “She makes us laugh. She is so cool.” And I smiled, knowing that we all need companions on this way. Beyond our own families, beyond our own friends, we need spiritual mentors, those who encourage us to walk the way that Jesus walked . . . .with laughter, humility, hope, and courage. I hope you will give yourself the gift of VIA. Or encourage another to be on “the way.” I think it is why we are here in this church . . . . to share the journey to God.