The rustic wooden lodge reverberated with anthems of praise. Melodies came from more than 150 men, men who refused to compromise and settle for mediocrity. I felt God’s presence. In my heart I saw angels among us, adding their perfect pitch to our feeble notes.
Tears rolled down my cheeks and I remembered moments I once knew but might have forgotten along the way.
This year marks the 10-year anniversary of my column “Introducing the Why,” the very first of which was entitled “The Best Spiritual Times.”
I was a senior at Union College, with plenty of those times fresh in my memory. Youth retreats at Broken Arrow Ranch. Campfire altar calls that changed the course of young lives. Late-night dorm room talks that seemed to be bigger than the moment.
Being a lifelong Christian doesn’t mean that I know everything; it means that I still have a lot to learn.
These experiences inspired me to write that first column, reminding myself that times of spiritual depth and rejuvenation don’t happen only when we go to church; sometimes the “church” comes to us, “wherever two of three are gathered.” Here are a few lines from that original piece.
“Over the next hour we seamlessly transitioned from hymn to praise song and back again. The more talented harmonized, while the rest of us simply let words flow from our lips. . . . Then one small voice began to pray; before long each of us had poured out our pain and sorrow to our God—and each other. Though I couldn’t see them, I believe there wasn’t a dry eye in the tree house.
“In that old, wooden, elevated sanctuary, we held a church service. There were no pews, no cross-adorned altars and no sermons. We worshipped God with everything we had, wrapped our arms around each other in support and bared our souls to our Creator.”
In June I went on a men’s retreat after being invited by my friend Stephen. It was a real retreat, complete with mountains, single cabin mattresses, and morning treks to the showers.
“Have you ever been to something like this before?” Stephen asked.
“I used to go on these types of things all the time back in college,” I said, like I was referring to something that happened yesterday. Then I realized: Man, that was 10 years ago.
A few weeks later, I found myself atop the California wilderness in a rustic wooden lodge, pouring out my heart to God with men who had walked through the shadow of death and emerged on the other side as warriors for Christ.
I was reminded of a lot during those 48 hours. I was reminded that being a good husband and father doesn’t begin with what I do, but with who I am. I was reminded that being a lifelong Christian doesn’t mean that I know everything. It means that I still have a lot to learn.
Most of all, I was reminded to remember. To remember that the best spiritual times don’t necessarily come from routine; sometimes they come from making the choice to break it.
Jimmy Phillips is regional marketing director for Adventist Health Southern California.