As a part of my sharing with you this week, I would like to invite you to take a deep breath and hold it as long as you can and then exhale. Wasn’t it a relief to exhale? The pressure that had built up in me made it nearly unbearable to continue holding, and then finally there was relief as I let the air out, allowing the spent air to be released and inhaling the oxygen-rich air that feeds the mind, body, and soul.
That is the closest I can come to describing what it was like for me to be present at three of our sites (Magruder, Collins, and Sawtooth) this week. All of the pent-up energy and used air that I had been holding were released as I saw staff offering themselves in ways that support campers and retreatants.
I also felt a deep sense of wonder and joy as I saw campers at Magruder participating in faith conversations, tie-dying, boating, wave jumping, and taking their turn on the giant swing. And yes, I did get my turn on the swing and also got to serve as an anchor for a couple of trips out into the surf for the wave-jumping activity. I also am experiencing similar emotions at Sawtooth, though with different activities. And at the Collins Retreat Center, I was present for a short time as the staff hosted the first group on site in over a year, and again I rejoiced to observe these guests engaged in conversation about their organization, developing the kind of community that will support their ministry work.
I have also been welcomed by staff members, and invited to participate in activities as well as to join the staff for a variety show performance that included kazoos and juggling. Simply being asked to participate was a gift that helped me exhale and remove so much of that stale air from the pandemic experience.
The relief also came as I witnessed deans, counselors, and counselors-in-training care for campers in ordinary and extraordinary ways. The counselor who supported a camper going through a long episode of hiccups, the counselor engaging with campers who were very slow in moving on to the next activity, the kitchen staff at all of the sites providing meals that allow campers and guests to thrive, and of course the grace of all as we navigate when to wear masks and thinking about how to do things in new ways to incorporate all that we understand about COVID.
I pray that over the coming weeks you are also able to experience moments of exhalation that provide relief to your soul and allow you to draw a deep refreshing breath of the Spirit.
See you on the adventure ahead,
Rev. Todd Bartlett
Executive Director of Camp and Retreat Ministries
*PHOTO: Todd breathes deep on Magruder's Giant Swing (Hope Montgomery).
Last week I asked for suggestions for traveling companions (that is, audio books!) on my road trip to Sawtooth, Wallowa Lake, and Suttle Lake. Several of you responded with wonderful suggestions. While I wasn’t able to access your suggestions from the library for this trip, I now have a list of books that I can look forward to reading later.
One of you suggested several podcasts that I have looked into; I will have the opportunity to listen to some episodes on the rest of my travels.
And one of you made the suggestion that road trips can be an excellent opportunity to process some of our “stuff“ by sitting in silence and mulling over aspects of life, a sort of meditative experience. This reader also suggested that I enjoy the scenery. I did take some of the first day of driving and allowed silence (or what passes for silence traveling down the interstate in a car) to soak into my soul. It was good medicine!
I am grateful to have you all as companions on this road trip as I think about our connections and the ways that you have shared some of your stories and resources with me. Thank you! ~Todd
Breathing. We do it all day, every day, but it's so easy to take it for granted. And then a COVID patient on a ventilator, or the killing of George Floyd ("I can't breathe!") instantly highlight the necessity of breath with heart-breaking clarity. Todd's descriptions above of the simple but so very profound joys he's experiencing at camps and retreats this summer remind us that our ministry allows God's children to breathe life-giving gulps of fresh air and the Holy Spirit. This is essential ministry, and here in Oregon-Idaho we are breathing a huge sigh of relief that we are able to fully engage in it once again, thanks in no small part to the financial support we receive from our donors. If you have not yet made a donation to camp & retreat ministry, take a deep breath and click that green button!
*PHOTO: Elementary campers at Sawtooth this week make their wooden name tags on the first day of camp (Todd Bartlett).