It was the last day of summer camp. I hadn’t met her before; we just happened to fall into step and conversation as we were walking to a workshop. That’s when she said it.
This was just last weekend. I was at a summer camp. For adults.
Lest anyone think this camp was a risqué affair, let me disabuse any notions. During the Thursday-through-Sunday experience, we stayed in single-sex cabins; neither smoking nor drinking was allowed; on our first night we sang songs around a bonfire as we toasted marshmallows and ate s’mores; on our last night we cheered each other on at a talent show; we laughed and played and danced…a lot. The weekend also had the elements of a great conference: engaging workshops ranging in style from practical to artistic, in theme from how to get better organized to how to plan and execute an excellent workshop to how to use drawing as a meditation tool. Camp organizers encouraged us to make the experience our own, whether that meant attending as many workshops, meet-ups, and other organized activities as would fit in the days or opting to take a nap or a walk or share in deep conversations in lieu of some of the organized events.
I chose to attend every possible workshop and to get up early for group meditation. I also took time to walk solo around the lake in the morning and lie on the ground looking at the stars each night; a meteor streaked across the sky one night. The experience – every part of it – was rich.
The people I met were creative, optimistic, grounded or in the process of grounding, forging their own unique paths or striving to find what and where that path might be. I am sure I will remain in contact with my bunkmates and a few other people.
“I’m not completely transformed…” she said.
Over the course of the weekend, some people had referred to the transformative and life-changing power of the camp. Past campers excitedly shared stories of what had happened in the year between last camp and this one.
A lot can happen in a year. Transformation can happen in a year.
What struck me about the woman’s comment was the implied expectation that she could and would be transformed in three days.
There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments cellularly, like a laborious mosaic.
I’m not saying that three days can’t have a profound impact on one’s life. A single moment can alter one’s life trajectory; it may even feel like “instant illumination.” But transformation does not happen in a moment; transformation happens “fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments cellularly.”
“…But I have new tools to take home,” she said.
The work of change is neither swift nor easy. Three days may crack the shell of the old so that something new may emerge. What comes next is a process of breaking out of old ways – of seeing, of thinking, of being – and stepping into new ones. Often, the stepping out requires tools.
It requires openness. It requires commitment to taking care of what may at first timidly and fragilely peek out of the shell. It requires courage because what fits now eventually will crack open in preparation for something grander; it is hard work. Depending on what that stepping out looks like, it may require more education or new skills. It requires the support of a community, people who can offer a hand to steady or a word to encourage as we step out into unfamiliar territory.
The woman’s comment immediately brought to mind the work of this beloved ministry, where we believe in the possibility of transformation and the process of transformation. Both of those beliefs are central to the work we do.
I have been cracked open and have emerged newly numerous times because of the JustFaith program and JustFaith Ministries. It first happened when my parents went through the JustFaith program and their eyes were opened 25 years ago; it happened again when I participated in the JustFaith program 10 years ago; and it continues as I have worked in the ministry and have dug into the themes of GoodNewsPeople, The Sultan and the Saint, and, most recently, JustFaith.
In each experience, my ideas, the truths I thought were Truths, have been challenged and cracked in order to bring me to a broader and deeper understanding of the world, of its paradoxical and simultaneous brokenness and wholeness, of my place as a creature in it. Each time I have emerged both heart-broken by and heart-swollen with love. Each time I have learned a little better to claim only my own truth, as I see how much I still need to learn before I can claim any Truth.
Each time, I have stepped out knowing that I am accompanied: guides ahead of me show me the way and peers beside me help me know I am not alone. Each time I have acquired new tools or sharpened ones I already had.
Transformation is slow work. Every so often we need new tools to break through and break out. Over the weekend, amidst people eager to be cracked open or to accompany people ready to do so, I found a few new tools that may help me on my personal path of transformation. I hope my fellow camper found tools and companions to help her to achieve what she seeks.
Returning to work, I hope that the heart of our ministry, the programs and resources we offer, provide tools for transformation. I hope that each group that forms, that becomes community over 8, 14, 21, or 24 weeks, provides companionship for every participant seeking to break out of an old shell and step into something new.