The Church must step outside herself. To go where? To the outskirts of existence, whatever they may be, but she must step out. Jesus tells us: “Go into all the world! Go! Preach! Bear witness to the Gospel!” (cf. Mk 16:15). . . In this “stepping out” it is important to be ready for encounter. For me this word is very important. Encounter with others. Why? Because faith is an encounter with Jesus, and we must do what Jesus does: encounter others. . . with our faith we must create a “culture of encounter”, a culture of friendship, a culture in which we find brothers and sisters, in which we can also speak with those who think differently, as well as those who hold other beliefs, who do not have the same faith. They all have something in common with us: they are images of God, they are children of God. Going out to meet everyone, without losing sight of our own position. (5/18/13) –Pope Francis
I just got back in from stepping out. To go where? The outskirts, the world. To do what? Encounter. I took a lovely group of high school students up to Ely, then out to the wilderness of the Boundary Waters for ten days. In Ely they were stripped of their cell phones, watched as they packed just two pairs of pants and two shirts and two pairs of shoes- one wet and one dry set. They did not know exactly where they were going, or what their next meal would be. They got vulnerable fast. Some young people were thrilled, others were skeptical, but it didn’t take long on the water for them to marvel at the scenery, admire the clear water and get hushed at the sight of loons.
In Ely our big group split up into smaller groups of eight– two adults and six youth. Day after day we ate together over a fire we built ourselves, we slept wedged together in our tents, we switched up partners to chat with on the canoe while finding our paddling rhythm. We huddled together in the rain, pushed each other through long and technical portages, shared books and hammocks. We fished and played cards, hiked and created inside jokes. Napped. We encountered the Creator in the sunsets. We encountered our Creator in each other.
I had been waiting all year for this trip because I knew the conditions were ripe for encounter. It’s not every day that you get access to a high school student for six days with no technology and nowhere in particular to be and with work to be done and adventures to be had together. I had been trying my best to encounter these young people in fits and starts. In the wilderness, our time together was easy and light. It bound effortlessly. By then end of the week, there was deep recognition and respect between us. We all showed up– really showed up– to play and pray and work and rest together. There was nothing, and then there was something, and that something was very good.
When we returned to Ely, we showered and ate a great meal. We reunited with the other groups of eight and shared stories. And after a weekend of more physical labor as a service project, we got back on the bus to head home. We again had our cell phones and extra changes of clothes, but the ride home felt significantly different than the ride north. There was a comfort, a quiet, calm confidence in the group that can only be earned by stepping out into the world to encounter God and each other.