What we remember continues to shape us. That simple recognition deserves heightened attention for those of us who are spiritual mentors and teachers. As I recall various periods of my own life, I notice that vibrant recollections often share a common characteristic. They link to experiences that move me beyond what I have known – beyond the comfortable cadence of what I expect to happen. I wonder if this is true for others.

Such moments and periods leap to consciousness much easier to access. I can reclaim a few vestiges here and there from hundreds of days scarcely retrievable from the year I turned 12, but vivid images flow freely related to a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains with my Aunt Verla. I have no memory of what we ate, little memory of what we talked about, or what I wore on the rest of that trip. The hours spent in the mystery of the mountains, however, stand out in detail – full of discovery. I recall my senses alive and alert in this new territory so different from home. I doubt I will ever forget my first encounter with a colossal rattlesnake sunning itself in the middle of the path. Suddenly spooked by our curious prodding, it shakes its ominous rattle and strikes out to protect itself though too far away to do any harm. It leaves a very big impression, as does a nearby plunge into the frigid spring waters of a trail side pool. Attached to these memories is the love, care and interest of my Aunt creating a life-long bond and lessons learned in the wild places.

Photo by Vaihbal Bhosale via Creative Commons
Photo by Vaihbal Bhosale via Creative Commons

Experiential Education calls this type of dynamic – Creative Dislocation. Camps and retreats have some very distinct advantages for churches and congregational leaders who want to awaken and invigorate people’s experience of God and their desire to go deeper in discipleship. Creative Dislocation moves people into settings, relationships and dynamics intentionally different from the norm, in order to enhance the potential for transformation. The unfamiliar heightens our awareness and attention because it is intriguing, less predictable, and in some ways more challenging. Our emotions get engaged, too, enabling us to better remember and thus tap into the experience and the growth it provides long into the future.

In the words of a cherished spiritual mentor, Ted Witt, “there is a change of place, a change of pace, and a change of face (the roles and expectations of one’s daily routine)”. As we cross from one environment into another, the potential for fresh possibilities dramatically increases. Disorientation, when done creatively and lovingly, can provide the stimulus for new insights, new priorities, and new ways of being in the world. In other words, dis-orientation can expose us to an alternative orientation when we are most alert, which quite often leads to some re-orientation of perspective and action within our lives.

Intentionally inviting people to cross into new “worlds” can be an unparalleled avenue for Christian transformation when the orientation of the experience maintains a creative focus on God and actively following Christ’s lead. Such experiences when reflected upon and incorporated can give deeper meaning to our lives from that point forward. Scripture is rich with examples of God being present in new ways during creative dislocations – like the Exodus, Jacob wrestling in the wilderness, Ruth traveling with Naomi, etc. Jesus, also, deliberately invites persons to leave their daily circumstances to follow him on a journey different from what they have known before. It becomes an incredible spark for a growing relationship with God and a catalyst for new life.

Picture by Tom Beans via Creative Commons
Picture by Tom Beans via Creative Commons

Christian Camp and Retreat Ministries invite people into the ultimate adventure – Following Jesus to wherever he leads them. What guests and participants remember from their experiences with us will continue to shape them. May they be formed first and foremost by living memories of love for “God is Love.”