Away

Just a week before our annual student retreat, I felt the pains familiar to any organizer.

And then I just looked at all this stuff, and thought it really doesn’t matter, because special and amazing things occur when you are away from home, regardless of preparation.

Almost 200 people joined me in a weekend retreat, to an old camp in the rolling hills of Arkansas, and most of who came were students. The terrain is beautiful and calm. The cabins are old and rustic. And the trails are well-worn throughout the site. A swinging bridge spans a small creek, but affords most of our students a first glimpse into something once quite common. And memories of past times linger around every tree, and every smell.

It was my tenth year to take such a group to this site, and it was my nineteenth year to be there, having used the same site when I was a kid, attending with a different church in an altogether different town. And the place, through the span of my twenty years, has not changed, save a new dining hall.

I took this photo in the fall of 2007, overlooking the swinging bridge and the creek.

It’s also a place where many former students, some now in college, and some married, join us again for thirty-six hours, and for me, it’s good to see the mingling. Great connections are made here.

And it’s also a sacred place. Rumored to have been a camp used for workers of the Civilian Conservation Corps, it is now a regular site for fall, winter, and spring retreats, and even hosts a regular summer camp. Holy things happen here frequently, and that little creek, the one you see above, has washed many students, and has birthed them into a life of faith and belief.

I’ve seen, now many times, what happens when you distance yourself from the normal. You are offered a chance to retreat, to escape, to move away from every hindrance and every weight. You are taken from the luxury of technology and asked to sleep in a shivering night, and you cling to the heat from the fire in the middle of the camp. Primitive and basic things take the place of what we now call necessities, and you feel a little like our common ancestors felt, long before the days of electricity. And you find welcomed company in in the community of people who now need to make due with the same basic needs.

I have nothing to offer with these words, except this: George Washington carved his reputation out of gruesome times when the American forces were vastly threatened by a stronger and better funded British force in the year of 1776. And Washington himself was made famous, not so much for his ability to muster the American troops into fighting what could have easily been a losing battle, but rather, because he knew how to retreat. Had he pushed headlong into a battle with those British forces, the war would have ended much sooner, and the United States of America would have had a much different story.

But he knew the value of retreat, of withdrawing, because it is in those moments that you rebuild your broken strength, that you catch your breath, and remember why you are fighting in the first place.

You retreat, you get away, all so you can live to fight another day.

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