The Tortoise & The Hare
By Gordon Mackenzie
I have no trouble recalling how I felt in the weeks leading up to my Tres Dias weekend. The session actually occurred over ten years ago, but it still seems so vivid and meaningful in my mind that the passage of time has not erased my feelings. In spite of the fact that my pastor had been so strong in her enthusiasm for what this experience would mean to my spiritual development, I still had some deep currents of apprehension.
These negative feelings had their roots in several areas. First, I felt my Christian “maturity” was barely at the puberty level, and I feared I was about to enter a den of Bible-quoting experts who not only would know all the appropriate passages for every situation but also the correct Chapter and Verse.
Secondly, my religious upbringing was sketchy at best; my parents were occasional Unitarians (need I say more?), with my younger brother and myself dispatched by bike on Sundays to attend the local church Sunday school. Later, at boarding school, I was required to attend church five designated times a week, which was enough to make my teenage soul rebel against any future religious dogma and conformity.
Lastly, the apparently intentional secrecy and mystery surrounding the contents of the program (“just wait until you get there, please”) was not a happy response to my personality profile, which abhors a vacuum.
But my soul had grown thirsty for spiritual growth. At age 35 I had married Sally, a Wheaton College (Illinois) graduate with a strong church background who was attending church regularly. As time went by our three children came along and they became involved as well with church programs. I began attending on a regular basis, and then getting more involved with church volunteer activities. And this led to my arrival at the Tres Dias program.
I could feel the warmth and support of the volunteer staff right from the start. I could see that everything was organized and structured with expertise and prayer. The attendees came from everywhere in the region, and from all walks of life–I was a corporate executive with IBM and my roommate was an ex-con who worked in a frozen-meat locker!
It was during one of the early rollos that I felt some of my apprehension return. The speaker told of how his young daughter had struggled against an incurable disease and, in spite of the best medical care and prayers from so many, the child passed away. It was not only emotional for him to tell it, but for all of us to hear, as we shared each painful step along the way. There was not a dry eye in the room, including mine. The message was how faith in God had sustained him and his family through this terrible ordeal. In fact, their faith was not only sustained but intensified. I wondered to myself how I would have done in the same situation.
Another rollo was given by a young man who was a recovering alcoholic, long into his recovery. The nadir of his drinking life, after divorce and job loss, came when he found himself literally lying in a gutter, with his father dragging him away. He told how finding Christ saved him from himself . It was a conversion experience that gave him the will and determination to change his life for the better and to reach a pinnacle in his commitment to Christ and His teachings.
I asked myself-“I wonder if it’s necessary to hit bottom before you can truly attain a conversion-level spiritual experience and rise to the mountain top? Do you have to know deep darkness in order to see the light? Was my comparatively blessed and crisis-free life a hindrance to becoming a good Christian? ”
As the years have passed, I think not. I believe the development of a strong Christian faith can be accomplished one step at a time, while others may reach that destination quickly, perhaps accelerated by the catalyst of tragedy and crisis. I see many others whom I perceive as solid Christians whose life stories are similar to mine–a happy childhood, with modest religious experiences and commitment in early life, followed by a spiritual void that is gradually filled through church service attendance, Bible studies, self-reflection, prayer, small groups and other church community activities, and participation in church leadership.
And in my own experience, the Tres Dias program was the most important step along this journey.
Yes, I believe the “tortoise” can reach the mountaintop as well as the “hare.”
Gordon Mackenzie is a member of the Fairfield County Tres Dias community.