Regular readers of this blog will know that one of the things I really love to do is to immerse myself in wild places and for many years (along with some old friends) I have been taking time each year to make what we call ‘wilderness retreats’. These usually involve camping on small uninhabited islands and following a deliberate rhythm of silence and community- with a lot of laughter in between.
Increasingly we have enjoyed being hosts and have been joined by friends, friends of friends and contacts from the assortment of church contacts and networks we are connected to.
This year, Crawford (a friend who has been coming for a few years now ans our go-to source for all things avian) described how it was usually only quite a while after we had left the island that its full impact was felt- almost as if we take a little of it away with us.
This year I felt very privileged to take some people who had never camped before and certainly never managed to get out to a wild west island. I always worry about the shock to the system that camping wild can be to those who have never done it before- particularly when (as happened this year) the weather is bad. It requires a methodical stoicism and can result in real lows as well as highs.
Half way through for example, I was convinced that my mate Graham was in some kind of stupour induced by wet waterproofs and fear of the poo-trowel. I would have taken odds on him chalking all of this camping in the wild stuff to experience and deciding that, if he were to survive, it was an experience he would never repeat.
Which just goes to show how wrong I can be.
Graham is a blogger too, and his blog has had a series of reflections on the retreat- the last of which is here. I loved this;
What I loved about retreat on that island was trying to discover a male spirituality that did not rely on dominance and aggression but had a measure of strength and vulnerability. It was ok to pray, share deeply, lose the mask of invulnerability and at the same time banter, fart, make toilet jokes, swear and build fires. Realising you are male, a Jesus follower and you don’t have to pretend/assume false piety is a very powerful thing.
I don’t claim to have discovered ‘a model’: there isn’t one, but the route of honesty is good for the journey…
It occured to me again that one of the most important spiritual disciplines is the attitude of vulnerability. We normally armour ourselves against this in a thousand ways, but in wilderness, on a tiny island, in silence, this armour falls away. For those like Graham who experience this for the first time, it falls with a loud clang.
There have been a couple of other lovely things that have been inspired by the retreat which I wanted to mention here- firstly Andrew wrote a lovely poem on his blog- which is here. A quick excerpt- but please go and read the whole thing;
Steel grey skies darken,Hidden rock spires, deep depths, whirling, roaring tides and waves.Wind and waves grow,Deck lurching side to side,Uncertainty,Hope,A rocky shore, but his plan, not ours.Safe upon a new shore, an unknown glen, not known for generations passed.Rocks, prayers,The rough-hewn blackness sinking into waves,Rocks, prayers,Held, carried, prayed overAre you there?