Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Kairos Experience

I just returned from a "Kairos" retreat with Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento; a four-day retreat experience at Christ the King Retreat Center in Citrus Heights that involved 56 students and 9 adults.

This was the 37th Kairos retreat that the school has offered, and therefore was called K37. Many years ago, I was an adult leader for the very first such retreat at CHBS, called K1, and subsequently staffed a number of them over the years. It never fails that at first I'm reluctant to go - given the time commitment, sleep deprivation, and general "on call" status for the four days of retreat - but by the end of the retreat I'm energized, inspired, and very glad I went.

The retreat is an adaptation of the Cursillo retreats for high schools. There are a great number of very honest talks, by both student and adult leaders, and a variety of activities in small groups that gradually lead participants more deeply into the recesses of who they are. Within the growing trust of small groups, students are able to help one another deal with their blessings and their challenges, their relational lives and their faith lives, their joys and their hurts. What's discovered is a common human bond of care - even for those whom you wouldn't really have paid attention to beforehand - and a glimpse of what the roots of faith's foundations look like and feel like. They may not call it that, but that's what it is.

I am constantly amazed at the goodness that shines out of the students. Something like this helps me to appreciate anew what it means to see others as true “children of God”, as De La Salle did. A retreat such as this allows the best in our relational potential to come to the fore, provides a safe place for our dearest desires for community to rise to the surface. Yes, there is a deliberate process for doing that; there are steps along the way. But it’s neither forced nor obligatory. It’s all by invitation. And the results are a freedom and spontaneity (and happy silliness) and good will that for a brief moment are given free rein – just to know that that potential is possible – before being tamed into the larger social context again upon returning to the “real” world. Neither one is a bad thing, but it’s good to know that the first is really possible and in the right circumstances can be accessed or nurtured deliberately in the future. Christianity is first and foremost about God and Love (1 John 4:8).

Students and adult leaders are able to touch a small but significant signpost to where God’s presence is found. I know that I’m personally enriched by the experience every time that I participate. When those on retreat return to the school and to their families, they are on a "K-high" for a while. And while this may fade over days and weeks, the touchstone of the experience itself remains and one knows that some very deep part of oneself was found and made alive.

My student small group was called "G2" for Group Two, and over our time together we became a close-knit group of very unique individuals who grew to appreciate each one's gifts, challenges, and life situations. While group conversations remain confidential, virtually forever (with the normal exceptions for counseling situations and issues) this atmosphere allows for rich, caring conversations.

Prayer (genuine prayer) is another key element throughout the retreat. Both for the presenters and the participants, formal and informal prayer settings / opportunities become stepping-stones for the retreat process. There is a group Mass each day and a reconciliation service on one of the evenings. But what stands out is that the life of faith becomes a natural element that weaves its way through the activities; nothing is forced or abrupt. Individuals participate as they will and as is fitting with where their faith currently lives. Hopefully, by the end of the retreat they will come to see that a life with faith enriches, deepens, and brings greater life to what it means to be human (at least in all its important parts) and an active faith life takes nothing away. To be faithful, or faith-filled, is to be fully human, which in the end is God and other directed. As St. Irenaeus wrote: "The glory of God is the human person fully alive."

The whole thing reminded me of a wonderful quotation from Nicholas Lash in a book entitled "Easter in Ordinary" - "Other people become, in their measure, 'mysterious,' not insofar as we fail to understand them, but rather in so far as, in lovingly relating to them, we succeed in doing so."

These have been days of fine mystery, fed by grace and human encounter. It remains to live them forward in small, deliberate steps that deepen the benefit for all.

Photo Notes:
Top - Entire Group
Next - Adult Leaders
Next - K37 - G2
Below: All the student and adult male leaders posed for a "Summer Collection" photo during a section of the retreat when we were all formally dressed up and waiting for the next phase of the retreat to begin. Sort of a "GQ" look.