Spiritual Disciplines in the Smoky Mountains

Smoky Mountains Retreat: Clunkville

Forty-two of us went to practice spiritual disciplines in the Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee this week. Most days, we started with a session in which we sang a couple of worship songs and taught a couple of spiritual disciplines. Solitude and Silence. Prayer and Meditation. Generosity and Fasting. Evangelism and Outreach. Community and Worship. Reflection and Celebration. All of these teachings started with an attempt to establish a biblical foundation for the disciplines and ended with an attempt to offer as many practical suggestions as possible. Next, everyone was released to immediately put things into practice for roughly 4-6 hours per day.

Smoky Mountains Retreat: Roosevelt Lodge Rockers

How cool is that?!? I was freshly impressed by the way that the college students took the spiritual disciplines as seriously as they did. It seems like they really learned a lot as the week progressed.

Smoky Mountains Retreat

At the end of each afternoon, after those 4-6 hours of practicing spiritual disciplines, we gathered in small groups to talk about our experiences. My group was called the “Kings Canyon Clunk” (each group was named after one of the U.S. National Parks). I didn’t know many of the people in my group very well to start the week. However, it really seemed to be helpful for all of us to hear each other’s experiences. And by the end of the week, we knew each other a lot better. Even working together to help with the daily tasks of meal preparation and clean-up felt like another sort of spiritual discipline: the spiritual discipline of Service together.

Smoky Mountains Retreat: Kings Canyon Clunk Dinner Clean-Up

Later, in the evenings, we had Free Time. We played basketball, volleyball, and disc golf. We roasted marshmallows around a camp fire. Or, we just sat around inside the lodge and talked or played board games. This, too, felt like another sort of spiritual discipline: the spiritual discipline of Recreation.

Smoky Mountains Retreat: Camp Fire

All in all, it turned out to be a very refreshing week. One of those weeks that I consider to be the “purest form of church.” We had very little in the way of outside distractions. Just hour-by-hour, day-by-day life as the Body of Christ.

Smoky Mountains Retreat: Solitude by the Little Pigeon River

On my last day in Tennessee, the National Weather Service issued a Wind Advisory for our area. They forecasted sustained winds of 40 MPH, with gusts as heavy as 90 MPH. Fortunately it never got that bad for us. But all of the talk about wind and all of the warnings about falling trees caused me to think back on the early pandemic again — flashing back two years — when I felt like God might have given me a picture of deepening root systems.

Those weeks and months of shut-down in the Spring of 2020 provided a rare opportunity for introspection and investment in one’s emotional- and spiritual development. At the time, I was reminded of the way that trees that grow stronger with each successive wind storm, branching their roots out further and deeper to allow for continued growth, strength, and sustenance. Contrary to one’s protective instincts, trees grow way bigger out in the elements than they can in a greenhouse.

Smoky Mountains Retreat: Olivia on a Sun-Soaked Rock

So those wind advisories were a good reminder of that early-pandemic imagery — and the more recent thoughts that God has given our church to Be Fruitful and Multiply. To bring things full-circle, God reminded me that spiritual disciplines are an activity in strengthening our spiritual root systems.

So even in the face of the wind advisories, I didn’t worry much about trees falling in the forests of the Great Smoky Mountains. They’d experienced wind before. And even though I’m sure that some trees came down somewhere within the park, I’d estimate that 99.99% of the trees remained standing and kept growing. Similarly, as our week of practicing spiritual disciplines in the Smoky Mountains drew to a close, I felt compelled to keeping praying and coaching the people of H2O to keep growing, as well. We grew a lot over the course of our week in Tennessee. And now that we’re coming back to Kent, we have opportunities to put those root systems to work. To be fruitful and multiply.

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