Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Fall school group orientation

Hello Everyone,
Curtis here again. As you may or may not know, fall is a very busy season for Shekinah on the school programming side of things. September contains our most coveted dates all year and those who can't get a September date settle for October although that means the chance of a cold night in the shanties or even worse snow (and that's why I find time for writing this today...).

When a school group arrives at Shekinah, I have a brief orientation speech that I give them as a welcome and to inform them of some camp expectations. I always lead off with the meaning of Shekinah because I believe understanding the name can set the tone for the trip and experiencing the glory and presence of God has been at the center of my experience in this place over the years. Some schools who visit are from Christian schools and some from the public school system but all get the same prompting from me to seek the glory and presence of God during their time here. I have no intentions on preaching a sermon to each school group but everyone who visits Shekinah has the opportunity to encounter divine inspiration and I want students to know that they are invited to be part of that.

I have 3 sub-points on this topic that delve a little deeper into the reasons why people come here to seek Shekinah. The first is that God's glory is radiated through nature and we have 287 acres of (mostly) natural area. Our piece of land is special. Where the ravine, made famous by the Dave Ens trail, intersects the river valley, tremendous potential for biodiversity exists. Not to mention the remnant patches of native grassland at the top of Quill Hill, where a completely different suite of species thrive. In a world where natural ecosystems are in decline, we are entrusted with a special gift that is found in Shekinah's 287 acres and we have a responsibility to conserve this area coupled with an opportunity to appreciate its beauty. I could go on and on about this responsibility and opportunity but since you have been a part of both of those things yourself, I will trust the land speaks for itself and move on.

The second reason why people come here to seek God's presence is to challenge yourself through outdoor adventure. This is a central part of the school program as we give students the chance to try wall climbing and zip lining, hike 190 steps along the aforementioned Ravine Trail (a big feat for
many!), and we challenge them to work as a team in the initiative tasks. It is in the middle of these things that we find the voice of God speaking to us from within ourselves. We also recognize that God speaks to us through our friends, whether they be old friends or new ones made at camp. The years past are filled with instances of people finding a friend for life which began with a shared experience at camp. As creatures made in the image of God, we have holiness that dwells within us and because outdoor adventure can strip away fears and limitations and preconceptions all the way to the core of our person, that holiness is revealed.

The third reason I give for why people and school groups visit Shekinah is in the second part of the name - Retreat Centre. To me, those words are sufficient to explain why it's a good thing your cell phone doesn't get reception down here, why we don't have video games or tv in the chalet. Shekinah is the perfect place to unplug from those things - to retreat from a life lived through a screen and to a place where you can immerse yourself in the natural beauty of creation. To really be present here is to give yourself over to God's presence which will engage your heart, inspire your mind, transform your life so that you may influence the world for the better.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Oil Spill in the North Saskatchewan River

As a result of the Husky Energy oil spill last week and with consultation and advice of the Ministry of Environment and the City of Prince Albert, Shekinah Retreat Centre will not be offering any water-based activities in the North Saskatchewan River until we receive confirmation that there is no longer a threat of contamination.

The oil spill only affects our water-based activities and has no impact on our drinking water supply as we draw our water from ground water through a well that is located on our property.

The health and safety of our campers and all who rent our facilities are our top priority and these precautions will remain in place until the relevant authorities have deemed it safe to utilise the river again.

We will be monitoring and testing our drinking water supply to ensure it remains safe throughout the duration of this contamination.

Shekinah Retreat Centre Board and Management

Monday, 18 July 2016

Children's 1: Psalms

Last week was our first week with campers this summer, and we had a blast! there was energy and enthusiasm and thoughtfulness! In our bible time, we talked about how to be a Co-Creator with God. We learned there are 5 steps: Naming, Studying, Care taking, Appreciating, and Praising. On the last day, our leaders had us create our own Psalms as an act of Praising the Maker for good creation! Here's what we wrote:

Psalm S.4
When Jesus died on the cross,
We suffered a great loss.
Rocks tumbled, thunder roared,
Mountains crumbles, rain poured,
Leaving our hearts covered
In moss

But as the sun cracked through the harsh black
A new light shone onto our Souls…

Everyone’s beautiful
Everyone’s fruitful
These are our new goals.

By Shanty 4

To the tune of “some chicken”
Well God made a little tree and I couldn’t make it grow
But I took good care and the next thing you know
Well the tree gave me air
And a new plant to sow
And now I see trees everywhere I go.

Do op Do op
Some creation
Do op Do op
Some Praise
Do op Do op
Some creation
And now I see trees everywhere I go

Well God made a little skunk who made me really mad
When he sprayed me up and down and I smelled so bad
But I gave him forgiveness
And he was so glad
Now we’re friends and I named him Vlad.

Do op Do op
Some creation
Do op Do op
Some praise
Do op Do op
Some creation
And now we’re friends and I named him Vlad!

By Shanty 5

Nature Psalm
For the trees that blow in the breeze
And for the river that cools our knees.
For the flowers that grow and bloom
And the birds that praise in tune.
For the sun that lights our days,
In you name we praise.
Thank you Lord for this place of fun,
Thank you Lord for everyone.

By Shanty 6

Palm 151
Thank you God for the river that flows
Thank you God for the berries that grow
We thank you for the songs that we sing
We thank you for the joy that you bring
Thank you for the food that we eat
That you for the people we meet
We thank you for the frogs on the ground
We thank you for the trees all around
Thank you for the deer than run
Thank you that the day’s begun
We thank you for the clouds in the sky
We thank you for the snakes so sly

By Shanty 7

Shekinah Psalm
The nature is powerful
Beautiful and untouched.
It frees you from the sins of man.
It is peaceful and quiet.
The sun brightens the land
The animals roam freely
The trees sway through the peaceful breeze.
God can lead us down new paths.
God makes all this possible
God brought beauty to the land.
Praise the maker.
All is balanced. All is good.

By Shanty 8

The Shekinah Psalm
The presence and glory of god is with us.
It is here in the colour of the butterfly’s wings
The presence is here in the twisting of the valleys and ravines.
The glory is here in the bending of the trees.
God is here in our relationships we have with each other
and with the nature around us.
The presence and glory of God is with us here at Shekinah
now and always will be.

By Shanty 10

Monday, 30 May 2016

A sermon on James 1:17&18 - God's kind of Perfect

This Spring, I was honoured to have been asked to speak at two different conference churches. Below is what I got thinking and talking about. Enjoy!

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures. (James 1:17-18)

Once I heard this short joke: A man calls on God to talk, saying, “God, we don’t need you anymore. Humans have learned and mastered creation”. God says, “Let’s see this then”. The man says “Well, first we take some dirt…”, and God interrupts him, saying, “Wait. If you’re going to create life without me, you’ve got to use your own dirt!”. 

I think the reason this has stuck with me is lying in James 1:17-18: Every perfect gift is from above. And while we learn this when we’re young, we may not think seriously about this outside of the evolution vs. creation debate. And while this debate is an important question to ask oneself, I think it’s missing the point… at least when referencing James 1.

This verse causes me to feel that tension. The thought of God giving us perfect gifts is appetizing! But it also implies a great deal of responsibility for our actions on Earth. To think that every Perfect gift comes from above, it causes me to think of what my creations have been, and how close to perfection, my gifts and talents can be.

I’ve always loved the word “perfect”. I spent a lot of my childhood trying to please others and, as a child, it is very difficult to understand anything in between right and wrong. Though I was taught to be thoughtful and critical, I couldn’t grasp the idea that something –an action, theory, or way- could fit into a category other than “right” or “wrong”, “good” or “bad”. And it’s been a struggle to undo this way of thinking. In my experience, I’m not the only person -or the only Mennonite- to struggle with this kind of strong conscience.

As I began my degree at Canadian Mennonite University, I was told that I was going in to find some answers, but would leave with more questions. When I was told this, I don’t believe I understood it completely. I believed I was receiving strictly education. And I was. But now I see education as contagious. Once you come to an answer, to one question, another 5 questions don’t seem impossible to solve anymore, and exploration begins! And so, though I explored many questions I had about life and theology, I found that not many of these answers could fit into the categories of “right” or “wrong”, “good” or “bad”. The answers, my answers, fit somewhere in between. And my answers were different from other’s. I learned that we were living in that in between. Between right and wrong, good and bad. And I began to make connections between living between right and wrong, and living in a kingdom that is here, but not yet full. Some parts of the kingdom of heaven are here: they are right and good. But this world is still so broken. 

And this is where James 1:17-18 comes in. Every generous act of giving, every perfect gift, comes from above. This must be the part of the kingdom that is here on earth. This is where the child in me –the one that loves to find perfection- is in awe. In awe of God’s perfect creation. But because the kingdom is not yet full, it is sometimes hard to see these generous acts and perfect gifts. And God does not work in the way we expect… Let’s not forget we’re human, broken in sin, and what we create, even in our imagination, cannot be perfect. We cannot imagine, or create, perfection. We can only see perfection in God’s creation. 

It is part of what I love about my work at Shekinah. Not to mention that Shekinah is the Hebrew word for “Glory and Presence of God”, a fitting name for a place where I’ve heard countless times it’s a little piece of heaven on earth. At camp, I see these perfect gifts all around. It’s easy here to see God’s creation, whether it be the obvious nature all around, or the friendships and relationships that are formed, or how camp tends to bring out the best in people.

The nature at Shekinah, I always find to be refreshing for the soul. Not only in what it can scientifically do for our bodies, but for what it teaches our mind. When we learn about biology, and how nature can sustain itself –and not just individual plants, but all ecosystems and all of the natural earth- we see perfection. Nature is perfect. It is made of numerous, self-sustaining and life giving systems. And although I recognize the debate between creation and evolution, I’ve grown accustomed to living in the in between, and come to my own answer for the questions: I believe that nature is too perfect to be random; it is too perfect to be from this world. Rather, I believe it was created and designed by our maker. And it is too perfect to be simply a gift for humanity. I believe God created our natural world, knowing that of our curiosity to learn; knowing that we would study nature and call it our own. And so God made it interesting for us. God made creation something we could study and understand; something that makes sense to humankind.

The friendships at camp: they form so quickly and look as though you’re putting together two pieces of a puzzle. But in reality, we are just two of God’s creations who interact with one another, and give light to God’s invisible creation: relationships. And these relationships are indeed a generous act of giving and, in that, perfect gift from above. Humankind is a relational kind. We need interaction. And true friendships are generous acts of giving. Giving part of yourself and your strengths to another creature. And because humans are broken, it is also important that we give each other our struggles and imperfections, and share in them. By no means will any friendship be completely perfect, because we are broken and we cannot create perfection. But the gift of friendship, that is from God.

Which leads to us as creatures. I said earlier that camp can bring out the best in each of us. I believe that simply being near to God’s perfect creation will help bring out the part of us that is what God intended us to be: Created in Gods image. The first fruits of God’s creation.

At camp, I have the privilege of encouraging individuals to be proud of themselves, of who they are naturally, just how God created them to be. Over the past number of years, I’ve compiled a list of reasons why I work at camp. And this has been the clearest to me. And saying that I encourage others to be proud, may appear to be too forceful, especially for some good humble Mennonites, but that is where living in the in between revisits. When we become proud of ourselves, it is not a complete pride, in that we take credit for ourselves. It’s the kind of pride we find when we’ve created something beautiful. Something that is in the image of what our creator can do. Something that is a gift FOR above… an effort to replicate the love we are given by our creator, for our creator. We are proud of who we were created to be, and we cannot have that pride without gratefulness to God. And as we recognize ourselves as creatures, we must remember that we are still creatures in a broken, sinful place. We too are broken and sinful. We make mistakes, and we struggle with certain parts of our lives. Some of us struggle with pride, some with greed, some with self-doubt. We all struggle in life. And we cannot be rid of those struggles, at least not in this life. We live in a world in between human made creation and God made creation; A kingdom of heaven that is here, but not yet full. And we live in a body that is created, but not perfect. We are born into a space that is in between; a space that is not “right” or “wrong”, “good” or “bad”, “black” or “white”. We’re born into a world filled with colors. And how fitting that God gives us a rainbow in remembrance that God is never changing and will never leave us. And so, let us take pride in and be grateful for the creation our God has given us. Thanks be to The Father of Lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Amen.