The idea of a church retreat had never appealed to me before, but the retreat was entitled “The Good, The True, and the Beautiful: Creativity and Spirituality.” The title called up Phillipians 4:8 for me as well as Platonic Forms and the adoption of them by church fathers. Additionally, plenary sessions with titles like “Starry Nights and Broken Hearts," "How Love Heals," and “Singing with our Truest Hearts" compelled me to sign up for the Camp Capers Retreat--even though it meant there was a remote possibility I would be bunking with eleven other women. I had no idea what to expect. Here is how it went.
Even though you may have visited Camp Capers, I am going to describe what I saw of it as if you have never been there because there were some changes made to it in 2017. First of all, Camp Capers is within thirty minutes of the hustle and bustle of Boerne and San Antonio, but it is still off the beaten path and, literally, walking distance from the serene and rustic little town of Waring.
There are lodges and cabins. Double occupancy "lodging" was available for those with a companion. Having no companion, I had chosen the cabin/ bunk bed route. I was surprised to find myself the sole occupant of a twelve-bunk-bed cabin. I had brought only a few things because I had convinced myself that I could manage in a tight space with eleven other women. The cabin was very comfortable, even though there was only one folding metal chair . . . no doubt for a summer camp counselor under different circumstances.
There is a pretty, short walk on a sidewalk to the gathering areas. There are state of the art meeting rooms and a state of the art kitchen. In addition to a good-sized dining area, the Lilibridge Dining Hall has cozy niches providing beautiful, cushy sofas and comfortable seating for a good-sized crowd. The meals, appetizers, and snacks were amazing. Fruits, snacks, and beverages were available at all times. Meals were gourmet good, thanks to Graham, the chef. Fireplaces and fire pits were lit. The staff were, from “A” to “Z,” wonderful and cheery and unaffected by fear or grumpiness or disruptions of any type.
What else I can tell you in just a few words about my Camp Capers experience is that you can smell the tranquility in the air the minute you turn onto the grounds. It is just different in a good way. The grounds are well kept and, at the same time, rustic and beautiful. I can add that the retreat was extremely well organized and that the sweet Bishop David Reed and his team did a fabulous job.
What I cannot say in a few words is what I experienced there and how I felt about the time there with the amazing like-minded people who were also compelled to attend. In a few words, I cannot say how warm and personable and smart and funny our speakers were and how inspiring their presentations and workshops were and how I felt I was in a living poem.
So, I am going to use a few more words. Please populate my meager description of Camp Capers with two bishops, at least fifteen priests, their spouses, and a handful or two of lay people from all walks of life, all of whom showed up there because they were "called" on some level to Camp Capers that weekend because of some personal referencing to the "Good," the "True, " and the" Beautiful."
Imagine the retreat, the attendees, the topics, the presenters, and their projects to be images in a living poem, each human with stories and allusions and references important to the overall understanding of the poem. That was part of the poetry of the weekend. Each person offered a path to another poem or opened another window in the understanding of the poem. If it were a poem, the names of Fletcher, Bettie, Shalmar, Pam, Becky, Chuck, Shanna, Bonnie, Caroline, Dorothy, Jennifer, David, Mike, Cyndy. . . would be there, and the poem would grow by leaps and bounds. Their stories would be referenced. The poem would become dense and beautiful with images of their various stories of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
Then, consider that Truth, Goodness and Beauty were not just classical principles borrowed from Socratic/ Platonic/Aristotilian/ Plotinistic thought, but also attributes assigned to God by Saints, Catholic scholars, and Popes. The poem would continue to grow in depth and meaning .
Add to this mix the Reverend Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest from Nashville, and her husband, Marcus Hummon, a Nashville country western songwriter and bonafide Notre Dame boarding-schooled, Renaissance man. Retreat participants were mesmerized by the lectures, sermons, stories, songs, convictions, joy, energy, and, even, easy humor of the pair.
With wit and insight, Becca told her stories, with conviction and commitment, she told the stories of the women she is called to help. Her ministry, Thistle Farm, rescues and provides housing for women struggling in the bondage of “the street” (drugs, for example). Another of her projects, the weaving of mats from life vests and blankets, provides hope, encouragement, and income to women Syrian refugees.
This all makes for quite some poem. Metaphors were abundant: God the life vest, Jesus the thread that runs through it, whether the poem, the life, the mat, our lives, our projects, music, our church.
During the weekend, there was a clear emphasis on community, on creative ways to fund, on using creative skills to maybe make something out of nothing that someone might want to buy which could help fund projects one's community is called to.
It was serious stuff. And, yet, it was fun. You did not know what was going to come out of Becca Stevens' mouth next. It didn't matter, though, because whatever it was, it always pointed the way to something relevant and profound.
She could (and did) take the death of a goldfish and make it into a story that inspired. About her husband, she said "Like a monk, he gets up every morning and goes to his piano and just plays his mantra and then I hear him go somewhere nobody has ever gone before. He does the work. You have to do the work." The last morning, those who wanted to do so had their hands annointed "to do the work."
Marcus said in one of the music sessions that he believes poetry is tied to the heart of God. I would, of course, agree. And, while I thought a poem might do better justice to my reflections on the weekend, I decided to just try to describe what it was like to walk in one.
If you are interested in more information about future retreats or about Becca or Marcus,here are links that you might find helpful:
- Camp Capers: http://www.dwtx.org/departments/camps/capers/facilities/
- Rev. Becca Stevens: http://www.beccastevens.org/#aboutbecca
- Marcus Hummon: http://www.marcushummon.net/
And don't forget; the St. Philip's parish retreat will be held at Camp Capers September 14-16, 2018.
Smiles to all from Roberta.