The Women’s Ministry of the Diocese in conjunction with the Brotherhood of St. Andrew offered the Wild Lent Retreat on March 24-26. The event was held at St. James Church in Alpine, TX and included an optional tour of part of the Big Bend National Park, south of Alpine. Attendees came from all around the diocese, including Gallup, Santa Fe, Alamogordo, Silver City, Albuquerque, and, of course, the Big Bend Ministry area. A huge ‘Thanks!’ to the parish family of St. James who provided lavish hospitality in the form of welcome and delicious meals, even sack lunches for those traveling on Sunday! Retreat participants enjoyed the beauty of the area, contemplative worship time, lively discussion, and fellowship with new friends. The weekend offered a time to reflect on Wilderness and how it is a formative part of our lives. Attendees were challenged to let Wilderness journey take them to new places of beauty and inspiration in order to transform their lives and ministries.
The retreat began on Friday morning with 22 of the 31 participants piling into cars for the drive to the Big Bend National Park. The Ross Maxwell portion of the Park was the focus with stops at the Badlands to experience a view similar to the Judean wilderness and at Tuff Canyon to consider the temptation of turning stones to bread. The towering cliffs (1500 feet from Rio Grande to the top) of Santa Elena Canyon were reminiscent of Jesus’ being tempted to throw himself from the pinnacle of the Temple and let the angels ‘bear him up’. At the Sotol Vista Overlook, where you can see for miles and miles, indeed far into Mexico, we contemplated how Jesus resisted the Evil One’s offer to rule all the kingdoms of the world. Following the Park tour, the group had lunch at Espresso y Poco Mas in Terlingua Ghost Town, shared a time of contemplative prayer in the old Santa Inez church, and visited the Otra Vez Thrift Shop to unload the pick-up load of donations for people of the area.
After a delicious soup supper at St. James, Bishop Vono set the tone for the weekend with his opening talk. He told the group that Journey into and through Wilderness is the universal story of humanity. The basic question of any wilderness is ‘Who are you?’ The answer is found in finding wholeness with creation and the Creator. Bishop Vono quoted Pope Francis as saying, “Whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world.” Bishop invited participants to be open to Wilderness experiences that test us, like Jesus was tested. Wilderness also strengthens us to move forward unafraid, in the same way Jesus ‘set his face toward Jerusalem’.
Saturday morning began with Eucharist in the lovely St. James’ sanctuary. Fr. Paul Moore preached on the readings for the Feast of the Annunciation, noting that Mary entered into Wilderness when she said, ‘be it with me according to your word’. In that response, she embraced the beauty and transformation of being one with God’s will. All Wilderness is an experience of being in the Presence of One who is mighty, yet to whom we are important. Wilderness is a time when the veil is pulled back and we see the beauty and oneness of all creation, as God sees it. Being enveloped in God’s love is the basic truth of Wilderness time. In response to God, we answer the question, “Who are you?” by understanding that we are children of the God who, as Michael Card says, will ’fight us to be found’.
Throughout the retreat, participants were invited to explore the question of ‘Who am I?’ through the experiences, conversations, and presentations of the event. One exercise, led by the Rev. Sarah Guck from Good Shepherd, helped attendees experience Wilderness that makes us let go of things we think are important, and even essential. Wilderness strips us to the basics. We find solace in our individual Wildernesses by being in a community where we feel loved, redeemed and forgiven and are free to share our story. As we hear and listen to others’ stories, we learn who they are. In sharing our stories, we discover that there really is only one story, which is the story of God working in and through us.
Fr. Paul Moore challenged the group to listen to the stories of the ‘least of these’ to discover how we can be Inspired to work and make “the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ” a reality. He stated that the inequities of power and pride, and the ‘lusts’ of the world, can cause us to slip into the ‘easy fix’ mentality, which makes us feel better, but doesn’t necessarily help anyone. Fr. Paul noted that until we see everyone as an individual human being, we are unable to really relate. Sharing stories, lives, and relationships is how we can make the kingdoms of the world into the Kingdom of our God. It is a new way of being human and requires that we listen to one another’s story.
In our Baptismal Covenant we say we will “strive for justice and peace, and respect the dignity of every human being”. Fr. Paul stressed the importance of providing dignity to everyone. This should be done by offering a hand up, not just a hand-out. This sort of ministry is done at the Otra Vez Thriftshop in Terlinguq and at the Borderlands Palomas Coopertiva which helps women in the Columbus/Palomas border community. They now have a new product: T-shirt quilts. These quilts can be purchased for $40, or can be purchased and donated to the people of Palomas for their homes, many of which do not have blankets.
After a delicious Saturday dinner provided by the Brotherhood of St. Andrew of smoked brisket and assorted sides, the Rev. Kay Jennings suggested that we are transformed through life’s Wilderness times. Martha Stafford spoke of her experiences at the Otra Vez Thrift Show where she can easily be ‘on the Pinnacle’ because she has more relative assets than the clients. She noted it is easy to judge or try to ‘fix’ the problem by wielding power. She has learned that giving must be freely done with no strings attached. The group shared times when they had given freely with no consideration of return and agreed that giving from a place of humility is transformative. The group explored the ‘pinnacles’ of life and Wilderness by drawing images of them, which ranged from barns and churches to an Escher-style drawing and linked hands.
During his Sunday sermon, Fr. Paul Moore reiterated that Wilderness always Transforms us and that we never leave Wilderness the same as we entered. God always works toward Transformation through change. The good news is that God’s path has the goal of the transformation of each person into what Irenaeus called “the glory of God: human beings fully alive”. Fr. Paul encouraged the congregation to be Transformed by sharing and listening to the story of the Wilderness in each other. This is the mark of true community and helps each one discover the answer to the “Who are You?” question.
Retreat participants ended the weekend feeling that they walked on holy ground and been blessed by the action of the Holy Spirit. This was symbolized by lighting votive candles on Sunday morning when entering St. James for Eucharist. Experiencing the landscape of Wilderness, both physically and spiritually, proved to be beautiful and transformative, filled with inspiration and fellowship.