A word or two from Collegeville

A word or two from Collegeville

Jamie Howison is spending the week of July 22 to 28 participating in a writing workshop led by Kathleen Norris. The workshop is a program of the Collegeville Institute, which is a writing retreat centre located at St John’s Abbey in Minnesota. 

When Catherine dropped me off last Sunday in Collegeville, her parting words were, “Have a great time at summer camp!” While in some ways she was just teasing me, in some real sense she was bang on in terms of what this week has been for me. After all, kids go off to camp so that they can get out of the city for a bit and meet some new friends, hone a few camp-related skills, and experience new adventures. It is pretty much the same thing for me here.

In the case of my version of summer camp, the list of new friends includes a Roman Catholic priest from Alaska, a young Methodist pastor from Ocracoke Island (three hours by ferry from the coast of North Carolina), a writer and self-described “farmwife” from Indiana, and a theologian from Andover Newton Theological School in Massachusetts. And like many kids returning to camp (this is my fourth time here…), there are always a few familiar faces. For me that includes both our workshop leader Kathleen Norris, and a dynamic young theologian from Princeton Theological Seminary.

The primary “camp skill” I’ve been honing is the craft of writing. We’ve had morning and afternoon group sessions all week, in which we either had conversations on writing facilitated by Kathleen, or we “workshopped” pieces of writing offered by various group members. This morning I offered two short pieces I’d been working on, and it turned out to be very helpful. You might be surprised to find that I’ve been using my writing time this week to work on some reflections on Advent (in July?), but saint ben’s is looking at trying to develop some new resources for that season and when it comes to writing and publishing you really do have to plan way ahead!

I supposed the other “camp skill” I’ve been working on is slowing down, praying, and just “being” for a while. I’ve been able to join the monastic community for prayer at least once a day, which for me is wonderful way to shift gears and to breath from a different place.

And as for “new adventures,” last night we had a professional actor come and spend a couple of hours doing a series of improv exercises and games with us, to get us out of our heads and into a more spontaneous creative place. Though most of us were a bit apprehensive about the evening, it actually turned out to be a really good thing to have done… and it did get us out of our heads and into a whole different space. Not that any theatre producers are likely to come knocking at my door…

And like a really good summer camp experience, the week has flown by at a remarkable pace. In less than 48 hours I’ll be in the car driving the 600 kilometers back to Winnipeg, and in no time I’ll be back into my routine. But like the best summer camp experience, I’ll be bringing something home with me that will allow me to look at those routines in a new way.

Jamie Howison


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