I remember going to Kairos during the winter of 2005. I was a senior at a Catholic High School, and an atheist. It was the last all out attempt by Catholicism to bring me into the fold. It only pushed me away further. Here is everything I remember from my experience: the “secrets” and parts I believe were blatant psychological manipulation.
If you don’t want to reveal the Kairos Secrets before you go then don’t read this. Personally, I think it’s more fun to know what happens ahead of time. True, if you go in blank you might feel better after the retreat. But it’s a fake feeling, it won’t last, and it’s because people manipulated you.
While I disagree intellectually with the entire premise of Kairos, I have come to look back on my retreat as bittersweet. Kairos was the last time I was required to pretend I was religious. Over the years prior I had perfected my own clever impersonation of a “good Catholic”, he was pious, faithful, and hilariously subversive. During confessions I would fabricate convoluted sins just to see what the priest would ask me to do “for penance”. My religious essays were works of exotic fiction to test the limits of my teachers, such as the time I wrote about worshiping my friend because he was very tall. The Kairos retreat was the last great defiant act of this personality I had worked so hard on. No one, until now, knew all the details of my performance.
It has been 13 years since I’ve been on the retreat. I’m writing these posts both to help me remember and to share with other people what to expect during Kairos. I found then, and still find today, that there is little information on what exactly goes on during the retreat. This is in part due to the deeply secretive nature of Kairos. There are supposedly “secrets” you find out during Kairos that you are not supposed to tell anyone because it will ruin the experience for them. I disagree, if you are looking for information because you think Kairos is a cult then knowing this information will help you prepare and see the manipulation for what it is. Your experience may be different from mine. Individual groups are personalized to some extent. The women seemed to have a different experience than what I went through with the men. They said there wasn’t any yelling but I’m not sure what else was different.
There was a strong shroud of secrecy around Kairos before I went. People who had already gone would simply say to the ones who had not: “It’s going to be great” or “You’re in for a real treat.” Nobody would share anything about what actually happens. This created a rumor mill of speculation on what went on during the four-day long retreat. One rumor was that you would be forced into sharing your darkest secrets until you cry. The worst suspicion was the “Naked Mass” where everyone would have to take off their clothes in some sort of weird Jesus loving orgy. This misinformation campaign by those who had already gone was unusually effective. I couldn’t find anyone returning from Kairos who would break character and reveal the truth.
The people returning immediately after Kairos made me even more nervous. People said Kairos was a life changing event, and the students returning supported that claim completely. My peers would return different. They would appear happier, always smiling like Mormon missionaries do in that fake sort of way. Some would talk to me with an openness I would not be expecting. People I never talked to before would greet me in the halls, or ask strange questions such as what I thought of the afterlife. After a few weeks many returned more or less to normal, others did not. It made me wonder what could possibly cause them to change into different people. I am still not sure.
I spent much of my free time ahead of the retreat researching what was going to happen on the internet, mostly coming up empty handed. Instead, I found information on brainwashing and how to resist it. While I was fairly sure of myself at that young age, there was a sense of self-doubt. What if I came back changed? What if they were somehow able to dig into my psyche and change fundamental parts of my personality like they had with so many others? For this reason, I chose the last available Kairos session, along with a number of my closest friends as support.
I went to the ministry office one morning to turn in my request form, signed by my parents, for Kairos. There I found the Smug Head of Ministry. He asked, almost reading my mind, if I chose the last date because of other obligations or because I didn’t want to go. I replied, “A little of both” even though it was entirely the latter. Without looking up at me he issued a dismissive “OK” and I left. I wasn’t looking forward to 4 intimate days of sharing “secrets” with him. That was the beginning of my Kairos adventure. Behind the scenes the head minister and his lackeys would start looking through my life, finding who I’m friends with, what I’m doing. They wanted to make my “Kairos Experience” personal.
There were a few things they told us ahead of the retreat. It was 4 days. We would leave on a bus after school on Thursday and return late on Sunday. No electronic devices were allowed, including cell phones. No clocks or other time keeping devices were permitted either. From those who had already gone and returned, we knew the experience could change us.
The bus took me and around 30 other male students in my grade to a monastery about an hour drive away. I remember getting off the bus, it was dark and cold, the leaders of our retreat were out in a line to welcome us into the old dusty-looking building. They introduced themselves and directed us where to go next. They never gave us forewarning on what was happening. It was always go here, sit there, write this, think about that. The first evening wasn’t very eventful from what I remember. We had dinner, there were some talks about Jesus, probably some praying. It was boring and not life changing in the slightest.