Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Kirkridge: Where Retreats Become Advances

Copyright © 2011 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved.

I just returned from a retreat with forty men at Kirkridge in Bangor, Pennsylvania. I was reminded of a minister friend who led so many retreats, we kidded him that it was time for him to stop leading “retreats” and instead lead “advances.” This annual retreat may be characterized—along with other Kirkridge retreats—as an advance for the participants.

Founded by a progressive Christian minister and administered by and host to progressive Christians since, Kirkridge’s motto is “To picket and to pray.” Social justice, personal growth, and progressive wisdom are reflected in its programming and even its operational style—for instance, it costs a little more than some other retreat centers because staff are paid fairly and provided health benefits. Yet the cost is less than most secular conferences.

Kirkridge’s spiritual roots are found in Celtic Christianity—an expression of our faith in which women could be spiritual leaders as well as men, clergy could be married or celibate, clergy and lay people were equally regarded, Christ walks among us in two shoes: scriptures and creation, there is no such thing as original sin, and what sins there are can be removed by Christ or an experience of nature without the church’s intervention. The Beloved Disciple that lay his head on Jesus’ breast during the Last Supper, “listening for the heartbeat of God,” is the patron saint of this contemplative movement that predates much of the present day church. The “soul friends” (anamchara) of Celtic spirituality led to the rite of reconciliation, the pastoral counseling movement, and present day spiritual directors.

Kirkridge and its adjacent Columcille (called “America’s Stonehenge”) have spiritual kinship with Iona, a center for Celtic spirituality on that isle off the west coast of Scotland.

A week before the retreat, the 85-year-old founder of Columcille, Bill Cohea, phoned me. “How are you?” I asked. “Well, I died a few months ago,” he said, chuckling, “I was having a procedure and my heart stopped for awhile. I was so prepared for whatever’s next that when they revived me, I said, ‘Shit! I’m still here! Shit! I’m still here! Shit! I’m still here!’"

I laughed and told him I just learned that Steve Jobs’ dying words were, “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”

Celtic spirituality recognizes those thin places on earth through which the awesome is revealed. The entwined threads on Celtic crosses and artifacts symbolize how heaven and earth intimately interweave.

Kirkridge is one of those “thin places” of Celtic spirituality. Though I’ve been going there for decades, only this weekend did I realize the significance of its name: it not only provides  a spectacular view from a ridge, but also a sacred vision of the forty men with whom I advanced as “church” (“kirk”).

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