"soul encounters"

I've been in Chicago most of this week, visiting some of the ministries that send retreatants to us. I notice I'm not as comfortable in the city as I used to be. Seems noisier, puts me on edge.

The experience reminded me of a conversation about wilderness trips and the importance of nature in spiritual awakenings. I can certainly see how it's often easier to focus and listen to the "still, small voice" when we're in a wilderness (or more natural) setting. That's part of what we offer to the retreat guests who come out to the farm.

But I don't think that natural setting is crucial. God can get through to us anywhere, if we're at all willing. Which is good, because lots of us can't afford or manage to get out to the wilderness very often. I noticed a pretty good observation from one of the organizations that offer guided wilderness "quests": "People experience genuine and profound soul encounter only under the most extraordinary of circumstances. And it turns out there are only a few categories of such circumstances." Such as:

  • Significantly traumatic personal crises, including
    • major physical trauma (injury or illness), often resulting in a near-death experience
    • loss of a primary relationship (through death or otherwise)
    • an extreme psychosocial life crisis that forces us to re-examine everything in our life
    • spiritual crisis
    • a "dark-night-of-the soul" experience
  • World-shattering or mind-blowing experiences: an occurrence that is not only extraordinary, but that significantly and irrevocably changes our understanding of what the world is and how it works
  • Genuine and extended "wanderings" in which we journey far from "home" in both the physical and psychological senses, all the while without contact with "home" (e.g., a year in the desert or in a truly foreign culture)
  • Rites of initiation or rites of passage: ceremonial processes specifically designed to temporarily displace the ego-bound state of consciousness to allow for the encounter with soul.
That particular organization offers the last option on the list (for quite a fee). But I found it interesting that that last one is the only one that we can try to make happen. All the rest usually happen to us. And of course those are the far more common settings for our spiritual awakenings.

We don't set those up for ourselves, though. (And we don't have to pay cash for them, unless our "life crisis" happens to be something like a crash of the stock market.) We can't create the most common, most powerful conditions for our "soul encounters." They have to be set up by someone who can manage much more than our little lives, someone who can take the whole world apart if necessary. And put it together again.

And all those other soul-jarring experiences don't have to happen in the wilderness. They can, and very regularly do, happen right where we are. Not when we choose them or can afford to buy them, but usually when we least expect them.