By Sarah Eldrige
"Good evening. Welcome to the Renaissance." I didn't know it then, but these words signaled the beginning of what would indeed be a renewal, a rebirth, for myself and each of the 51 other men and women on Encounter this last weekend.
As one of the co-coordinators for the fall and spring Encounters this school year, I had the wonderful opportunity to help lead and participate in this retreat. Now, because Encounter is far from your average weekend getaway, I won't be able to share any specifics about where we went or what we did.
Thankfully though, not knowing the activities that took place in no way diminishes the incredible wonder of this retreat, because it is not the activities that set the weekend apart from many others. Instead, it is precisely because it seeks to make participants fully present to, and focused on Christ, that the Encounter experience is one from which an individual emerges forever changed in some way.
Though everyone's experience on Encounter is different, for myself, I was most changed by the words spoken and honest and open conversation I was a part of. Conversations between people varied greatly, from knowing (and expressing) who we are without fear, and being open to God's call, to seeking to love and serve others, and reassessing values through the eyes of our faith.
These were the moments when I felt God was most present, for the spoken word acted as a catalyst for incredible transformations to take place as a genuine air of openness to new ideas and a trusting willingness to open up about where individuals were at currently in their relationship with themselves, with their friends and family, and with God, became the norm for the weekend. It was literally as if you watched a veil drop from in front of you and suddenly you realized that you were seeing the person in front of you truly for the first time.
The act of holding back parts of ourselves, and our hearts, from everyone, especially God, seems like the safest bet. After all, we are just fine on our own and we can take care of ourselves just fine thank you. Yet deep down, I think we all know this is absurd, and is not the way things are supposed to be but we believe, and choose to live, this way anyways thinking that in the end it doesn't really matter.
But as C.S. Lewis once observed, "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable."
So, in reality, your choice, whether you choose to open or close yourself to love, PROFOUNDLY affects who you are and the person you are becoming each day, regardless of whether we want it to or not.
People could have chosen to keep up their walls and just enjoy a weekend away from school at a secret location. But they chose instead to open themselves to the love of God. They chose to make themselves vulnerable to knowing that allowing God to live in their hearts would require a transformation that would lead to an inner death of the parts that hold us back from loving God. It is only through the dying to self, and trusting everything to Him, that you are then able to follow Christ's example in truly being the embodiment of God's love to every person you meet.
In just a few short weeks, we will be looking again at preparing for another Encounter retreat, and my hope is that you honestly consider if God is calling you to come and meet Him. If you are a past retreatant, please consider giving yourself and your gifts to cultivate a weekend of love between fellow classmates, yourself, and God. If you have not yet gone on Encounter, think about it. I can assure you that this secret is one worth sacrificing everything for.
Sarah Eldrige is a senior elementary education major. She can be contacted at email@example.com