By Michael Coleman
So I’m standing atop this rickety, shaking pole some 40 feet above the ground wondering how I’m going to get back to solid turf without breaking my back. The breeze seems like a gale force wind and I’m perched on a square hunk of board the size of a lunch tray. The problem is, another man is also standing on this tiny piece of real estate, way up in the air, because it’s a team-building event. Next, we get to leap into the air to try catching a trapeze bar hanging some 8 feet away at eye level. The thought of this makes my hands sweat and I can’t peel my eyes off the ground, so far away. Somehow I thought it would be great to be the first pair to go up the “power pole” at Prairie Star Ranch. Before I tell you of my leap of faith, though, let me tell you about the retreat.
Maybe you’ve been to Christ Renews His Parish or some other retreat, possibly back in college. Well, this daunting adventure was part of the FIRE (Fellowship Inspire Renew Engage) retreat in February of 2015. It is not your typical experience. It is a masculine, outdoor and active spiritual experience that involves 80-100 men who are looking to grow, relax and get away from everything for a weekend. It is amazing. This year it is Feb. 18-19 at Prairie Star Ranch.
I was invited by one of the founders, Paul Karr, since I knew him from my days at Prince of Peace parish in Olathe. Anything Paul gets involved in is going to be great for your mind and soul, but also a lot of fun. We had great weather that weekend with highs in the 60s. I think God took it easy on us and left the snow and cold up in Minnesota on purpose.
One of the best parts of the weekend was the Rosary walk. About a dozen of us ventured off into the woods and stopped at various points to reflect on each mystery before proceeding the pray the Hail Marys as we walked. The mysteries were presented in a natural, but powerful way, with time to contemplate what Jesus experienced. Walking that path, thinking about the path Christ walked as he knew how his life was to end – painfully as a sacrificial lamb – showed me how much he loves us. To take that walk with other men, many that I know are very good men, was strengthening and encouraging.
My favorite thing about the weekend is the fun, friendly atmosphere. I got to meet and get to know some terrific men at the FIRE retreat. I knew a few from Prince of Peace but most the guys in the group I was in were new to me. They made me feel like part of the team and everyone was great about knowing when to share a story or reflect on something and when to just be still and think or pray. There was no pressure to share more than I wanted and the guys were just glad to have a little outdoor time and relax with the activities. There was also enough downtime to catch your breath.
On Saturday night the men went out and walked a dark path in the woods, lit only by the torches we carried. We made them earlier in the day as part of another activity. It was a peaceful and memorable experience. At the end of the path was a large bonfire. We spent some time reflecting on the day and what we had seen and experienced. There’s nothing quite like the still of night and a fire to bring you closer to God. If that doesn’t do it, there’s always the music. You’ll enjoy some rocking contemporary Christian music. I was surprised at the quality at first, until I got to know the dude behind the guitar. Let’s just say the music is a cool part of the weekend. It is memorable.
There was Mass on Sunday and if you want to get out of a rut, attend Mass with 100 or so men who strive to know God better. Everyone is on their own journey, of course, but recognizing that so many men are battling the same challenges and worries that I am, helped me understand that I am not one man out on an island. I am a man among brothers – a man who has friends to rely on. Mass was a powerful experience for many of the men on the retreat. Oh, and the homily was just for us. You don’t get that kind of treatment every weekend. Between the camaraderie and the new friends and maybe old friends, you will remember what it’s like to be yourself, maybe even the best version of yourself, for a weekend. And you will be encouraged and praised, in an honest way, for just being yourself.
Leap of faith
As for that leap of faith, it wasn’t like we were working without a net. (Jesus didn’t leave his Apostles without backup, He sent the Holy Spirit.) The team at Prairie Star Ranch got us harnessed up real good and tight so everyone was safe. Still, it seemed like we were a mile off the ground. When the time came, and my legs were exhausted from climbing up the pole and trying to balance while we got ready to jump, it was exhilarating. I’ve never done anything like it. We went up in pairs and discovered that we would also come down in pairs. They told us to jump for the bar at the same time. Rich, a friend I knew from Olathe, was game enough to trust me to jump with him. He even put up with my last second questions about how to grab the bar, etc. I said a prayer to calm my mind. In the end, we counted down and jumped. Rich hit the bar a split second before me and for an instant, the bar moved farther away. Somehow I managed to get both hands on it and hold on. The cheering men below confirmed our victory. What a terrific way to conquer your fear and strengthen your faith. Go check out the FIRE retreat Feb. 18-19 at Prairie Star Ranch. 1… 2… 3… leap! You’ll catch God, or He will catch you. Either way, it’s one great way to spend a weekend.
Register here if you are interested http://www.fire-retreats.org/