retreat.

As I’m preparing to leave on a weekend “Fall Retreat” with our youth group, the news is filled with drama from another “Spiritual Retreat” that happened in Arizona last week. You’ve most likely seen it on the news, but in case you haven’t – here’s a brief synopsis:

James Arthur Ray, famous author and spiritual motivational speaker, was leading over 50 people on what he calls a “Spiritual Warrior” retreat. It’s a 5-day retreat, costing “Only $9,695 Per Person”, where:

“You’ll become privy to techniques (many kept secret for dozens of generations) that I searched out in the mountains of Peru, the jungles of the Amazon (and a few other places I don’t care to recall).”

People were crammed inhumanely into a sweat lodge, many had to be hospitalized, and 3 died from the experience. I’ve done a sweat lodge once, as a teenager at a YMCA camp. They aren’t typically things you die from.

Just in case it’s easily misinterpreted…let it be known that this retreat, and James Arthur Ray’s efforts as a whole, are NOT Christian in their nature. Read this article from Christianity Today back in 2007 to hear a few nice reasons why.

But the whole event exposes something quite important. It’s unfortunate that anyone was injured, and horrible that people actually died under such negligence and bad leadership. But it brings into the spotlight the simple fact: These Retreats Exist.

Seriously? Paying $10,000 for 5 days in Arizona, in hopes to become rich/successful/powerful? There is an illness here that goes far beyond something that can be purged in a sweat lodge. The illness of being human. Of desiring something “other”. The innocent trust that if someone offers you an “otherly” experience, we are so desperate sometimes that we will make great sacrifices to try and force such an event.

As I said, we’re leaving on a retreat where teens paid $60 each (if they could afford it, if not they simply come). Every person gets a t-shirt and food/lodging for the weekend. We’ll do some stuff together that will help build relationships and we’ll spend some time purposefully being silent in the presence of God and His creation. No promises that this will make anyone who comes more successful. But I promise if offers to be a transformational retreat, not because we force it to be, and not because we’ve discovered some ancient secret, but simply because it’s the nature of the Spirit who meets us there.

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