I spent the fall of my sophomore year in college at a Catholic college near Boston, and while I didn't get very involved in much of anything, something that I did do was attend one of the retreats sponsored by campus ministry. Another girl in our townhouse had convinced my roommate and me to go on this retreat (she had gone the year before). She hounded us about it multiple times per day--I don't think she would have taken no for an answer. So we dragged ourselves out of bed and across campus around 5:30 a.m. to get in line to sign up and paid our $35--we were the last two in line.
That weekend in November 1996 we loaded up a bus and headed off to Yarmouth, MA, to a house close to the beach. Many of us didn't know each other. Over the course of the weekend, those of us attending heard talks on different topics from the leadership team. We began friendships, laughed together, cried together. We saw an impossibly beautiful rainbow in a completely clouded sky.
There was one activity that stood out to me above all others, though by now, the details have slowly been forgotten. There was something with necklaces made of yarn, a story about warm fuzzies, and hugs.
And then God showed up. I don't know if anyone else noticed, but I certainly did. During this activity that I was surrounded by a Presence, and that Presence was Love, and I knew that it was God. It set my life on a new trajectory, wanting to find out more. I'd always believed, but this was different.
In the years since, I've never had the experience again, and I often wish I could go back to that time, that place. The theme of the weekend was "All I Want", based on the song by Toad the Wet Sprocket:
To be this close, to feel the same
All I want is to feel this way
The evening speaks, I feel it say...
With my many moves, I never kept in touch with any of the people from that weekend, and I wonder where they are today, what they are doing. I wonder if they too ever want to feel that way again.
But as much as that experience has stayed with me over the years and encouraged me at times when I've had questions and doubts, it's impossible to go back in time and feel that exact way again. It's like reminiscing about "the good old days", when we selectively choose to only remember the positive parts of those days and forget about the negative aspects.
It reminds me of Paul's words in Philippians:
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. --Philippians 3:10-14
Paul didn't spend his time dwelling on his past experience on the road to Damascus, important as it was in his life. He lived in the present and looked ahead to the future. I wonder if, all this time,I've missed part of the message of the weekend. I've focused on feeling God's presence, but I've forgotten about the rainbow: the symbol of future hope. The rainbow happened in a very cloudy sky, and we were all pretty amazed, because the sun was not out. And isn't that just like hope? Isn't hope something that shines in the darkest of places? The writer of Lamentations illustrates this well:
my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, "Gone is my glory, and all that I had hoped for from the LORD." The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. --Lamentations 3:17-23
Let us all press on, looking ahead with hope.
P.S. If these photos or the description of the event/location rings a bell with you, I'd love to connect and know how you remember the event. Let me know in the comments!