Time out for a retreat – it’s a good thing

New Gilroy United Methodist Pastor Eric Cho and Gavilan student

I went on a journey just a few miles from home this past
weekend, but it was a journey of the spirit, not just the body.
I went on a journey just a few miles from home this past weekend, but it was a journey of the spirit, not just the body.

There comes a time each year when I need to get away from everyday surroundings, step out of my rut, and flex my spiritual wings a little. There is a camp called Monte Toyon I visit in the redwoods southwest of Gilroy, in the small town of Aptos, a summer retreat from the daily grind.

About 30 Gilroy United Methodists made the trek from city to forest, where they stayed in the Carey Lodge, a rustic two-level building with about 25 rooms.

On Saturday, the day began with the favorite activity of the boys (and a few grown men, too): paintball wars.

The guys suited up in so much gear you would swear they were going off to wage real battle, and they returned bruised and battered in about 20 different shades of color. Alternative activities included climbing a redwood tree several hundred feet into the air, walking across a tightrope from tree to tree, and finally rappelling back down to the ground.

New Gilroy Methodist Pastor Eric Cho may have felt like he was being put through some sort of initiation ritual, but he was a good sport as he gamely made his way through each step of the challenge course, first walking the tightrope in the redwoods, making his way up a tall rope, wood, and tire course, and finally reaching the top of the rock climbing wall.

He was one of only two people in our group to complete all three courses, the other being an 11-year-old parishioner named Amara.

Pastor Eric may not have done it as quickly as the most nimble youth, but he persevered, never giving up until he reached the final stretch of the challenge. Along the way, he was ready with a hand up for anyone who might need it.

Bishop Warner Brown has appointed him to Gilroy from Kerman United Methodist Church near Fresno. He started his pastorship at Gilroy United Methodist Church on July 4 with a sermon on the theme of freedom.

Freedom was the feel of the retreat as well. With no rigidly structured study or activity schedule, those who wanted to could just sit on a log and watch the deer go by. A jaunt down to Seacliff Beach to see sand castles, fly kites, throw the hypersonic frisbee around (it sings while it flies), and just watch the dolphins swimming by was more my speed. I was really tired after a stressful week and needed to relax and unwind.

The thing that struck me most about the weekend was the way everyone did what they wanted to do, but cheered the others on, no matter what activity they chose.

Applause and shouts of “You can do it!” “You’re doing a great job!” “Only a little farther!” “You were amazing!” rang out through the trees constantly. No matter what the activity, there was team work, camaraderie, and such encouragement that people I never thought would try climbing higher than a footstool suddenly got up and had the courage to try walking 100 feet in the air on a tight rope.

On Saturday night, it was marshmallow roasting time with long sticks we found in the woods. We recalled how at this time last year, a family of raccoons came scampering down from the trees fascinated by the s’mores, while the kids making s’mores were fascinated by the baby raccoons. The kids decided to go on a night hike while the adults thought it a wiser course of action to relax with wine by the campfire. The view from the top of the mountain at night is spectacular though for those who have the energy.

We often hike to a chapel on Sunday morning which has windows all around; there’s nothing quite like worshipping in such a setting. You can’t help but feel closer to God when you stand at the foot of a 2,000 year old redwood tree with all of creation’s splendor surrounding you.

Sometimes it takes going away from home to get to know those from home better.

Sometimes it takes helping each other up a challenge course to make new connections with each other and build up closer bonds with friends from Gilroy.

Pastor Eric gave a short message in the Sunday morning cathedral of trees. His point was that we should take the good feelings we had experienced in nature and feeling close to God back with us into our normal routine. The routines may not change, but how we perceive them (or feel about them) can change. The term “retreat” has several related meanings, all of which have in common the notion of safety or temporarily removing oneself from one’s usual environment. It’s wise to step back far enough to where we can and look at life from a different perspective. Sometimes the best thing we can is to treat ourselves to a retreat.

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