Recently I had the opportunity to go on a Kairos retreat, which was both wonderful and overwhelming. My leader that weekend helped me to connect the feeling of being overwhelmed in the Connors Center, with a similar overwhelming feeling I had three months ago.
Last semester, while I was studying abroad in Chile, I had the opportunity to go backpacking for eleven days in Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia. For the first six days I was alone. There were other hikers around, but I wasn’t with any of my friends, and I ultimately decided on the trip because I thought it would be healthy for me to learn how to be by myself--especially without any technology--for an extended period of time. I had never travelled alone, but I had high expectations. I planned morning, afternoon, and evening devotions in advance. I made a list of things and people to pray for. I basically created for myself a curriculum for my solo retreat.
While it was nice to have structure, looking back with a few months of hindsight, I realize it wasn’t any of the journaling or processing or structured devotional times I did that were the most important; it was the sheer feeling of being overwhelmed.
I can recall several times each day, when I sat down on the side of the trail and just looked around, and tears came to my eyes because I was just so overwhelmed by it all. Patagonia is one of those places on the planet that doesn’t feel real, because it’s so beautiful and crazy. Basically, it is where the Andes reach the end of South America, so they kind of fall off the continent into the freezing southern Pacific, creating this magical space of mountains and glaciers and lakes and bays. There is very little animal life, but the landscape itself seems to be living and breathing, as weather changes constantly and glaciers crack and carve out the sides of mountains, and ice melts and causes avalanches hundreds of yards above the trails. It’s wild, and so incredibly overwhelming.
But what I realized on Kairos, three months after my Patagonia trip, is that the feeling of being entirely overwhelmed is a feeling of the nearness and presence of God. It’s okay sometimes not to be able to gather ourselves into coherent thoughts and words. There is sacredness in resting in the beauty of the world, and the love of our Creator who made it all, just so that we might delight in and be overwhelmed by His wonderful works. Doc Miller, who has been a longtime friend of BC, says that one of the prayers that has guided him the most in life, is the simple line “God’s golden radiance fills the world.”
God’s golden radiance filled valleys and bounced off glaciers in Patagonia. It reminded me of how deeply loved I was, even when I was all alone. God’s golden radiance shines on the faces of the people I love, and it speaks through those people when they speak words of love. A.W. Tozer said “sometimes when we get overwhelmed, we forget how big God is,” but argue that sometimes it is in the experience of feeling overwhelmed that we realize how big God is. It is in being overwhelmed that we realize that God’s love is no small thing. It is so huge that in its presence we shouldn’t always know how to respond or what to feel.
For me, Kairos was an experience in being overwhelmed more than anything--by hard things like feeling hopeless, and by beautiful things like being loved unconditionally. In the time that has passed since Kairos, I have continued to feel overwhelmed every day by the morning sunlight that comes in through my kitchen window, by the look on a friends face when they are truly listening, and by a million other little things that happen every second. It’s easy to forget that “finding God in all things” isn’t just something St. Ignatius said because it would make a good tagline for a handful of universities. Finding God in all things is allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. It is realizing that God’s golden radiance fills this world.