The Spring Seniors’ Retreat at Hidden Acres Mennonite Camp and Retreat Centre focused on addressing the spiritual hunger evidenced in our culture today. Arthur Boers, the retreats’ speaker, noted a broader malaise in society reflecting patterns of distracted busyness. He suggested that we have less time to engage in meaningful ways with family or with friends. Also, there is an increasing reliance on technology when communicating with others. In the institution where he teaches, faculty often text or send an email to other persons who may be only a few doors down the hall. He suggested that this way of communicating tends to distance colleagues with the loss of the face to face engagement. This pattern is common in society as well which has the effect of creating distance between persons. This way of living contributes to feeling empty, unfulfilled as well as feeling isolated from others.
In the Christian community he sees an increasing desire for abundant living to respond to the feelings of emptiness and lack of meaning or lack of focus in life. Boers went on to talk about his search for personal and spiritual fulfillment. In 2005, he walked five hundred miles on a pilgrimage route in northeast Spain, the Camino de Santiago. (Camino in Spanish for “way” or “path” and Santiago simply means Saint James), its destination is the city of Santiago de Compostela. There, a cathedral houses the purported relics of James the Apostle, the patron saint of Spain.
He stated that there is an increasing interest in pilgrimage. In 2005, there were 95,000 persons who walked this trail. He suggested that there are three types of persons who go on this pilgrimage through the centuries. The largest group are those who take the walk for religious reasons, searching for a deeper relationship with God. It is an occasion for contemplation and prayer. The walker can identify with a long Christian tradition of Christians who have made this pilgrimage through the centuries.
The second group are characterized as spiritual, desiring to reflect on their life and possibly realigning their priorities. For some it resulted in a vocational change. He met several persons for whom this became a reality.
The third group are secular persons who view it as being an intense physical challenge. Others see it as an inexpensive vacation.
In the midst of the pilgrimage, Boers learned to listen to others particularly those characterized as spiritual but not religious. The group members were interested in making a new acquaintance which resulted in an openness and trust. There was no rivalry seeing who would get to the destination first, rather there was an awareness that group members needed each other to complete the pilgrimage.
He quoted Albert Borgmann, a philosopher, who talks about the need for focal places in our lives. Places that inspire us and become significant for us as settings to encounter the divine. Boers said that our society is characterized by the geography of nowhere, everything looks the same. Communities all have the same appearance. We should find our sacred places which inspire us and open up the possibility of an encounter with the divine as revealed in Jesus Christ.
He asked, what happens when we live differently than our neighbours? For example, are we less busy than those around us or do we all live very busy lives? Do we take the time to engage others at a personal level? He encouraged us to examine how technology isolates us or brings us together in our families. Is the TV located in a central place interfering with normal family sharing? He talked about the need to create focal places that become natural places for conversation. In biblical times the well became a focal place for conversation.
We need to find ways and places to bring people together. Church gatherings such as worship services and fellowship meals are venues for people to engage meaningfully with others. Following these practices will hopefully lead individuals in the direction of abundant living.
He suggested that we develop focal practices such as having a disciplined prayer life by setting aside regular times for contemplation and reflection on the scriptures pausing to allow God to speak to us. Speaking personally, I find this practice to be the most challenging to carry out on an ongoing basis.
The retreat opened with a time of worship led by Nelson Scheifele, chair of the retreat committee. Abner Martin led the singing both in the opening worship as well as in the extended hymn sing prior to the afternoon presentation.
For those interested in learning more about the pilgrimage, read “The Way is Made by Walking”. A Pilgrimage Along the Camino de Santiago. IVP Books 2007.
Arthur Boers holds the R.J. Bernardo Chair of Leadership at Tyndale Seminary, Toronto. He previously taught at AMBS, Elkhart, Indiana. He has pastored churches in the US and Canada, including Windsor and Bloomingdale, Ontario. He is the author of more than a half dozen books.