Each day of the retreat had a theme to go along with it. The first day is “Doubt the first”. The theme generally fits with that day’s talks. I don’t remember any of the talks on the first day other than they were incredibly boring. They give you a notebook and various leaders share pre-approved stories of their lives.
The leaders were students from our grade who had already gone through Kairos and “changed”. There were also adult leaders who were our teachers or the Smug Head of Ministry. They would all take turns with written stories that we had to pay attention to. Occasionally they would say “I feel this is important and you should write it down”. Then you scribble down whatever meaningless platitude they shared. Most of the stories were about them not living up to expectations or struggling with their faith. You are completely cut off from the rest of the world while in Kairos so at this point you have nothing to do other than listen and write in your notebook. Sometimes they played Christian inspired music such as U2.
The food was okay. It was basic food that the monks that lived there knew how to cook. I think it was mostly pasta or things like that. It was fine with the only noticeable effect of making everyone bloated and gassy. I’m not sure why, but this was a shared complaint of everyone I asked. After each meal some people were asked to assist the monks with cleaning up. I never did this. Also, someone had to volunteer to carry a crucifix around to the various rooms you visited. I also never did that. During some meals we were asked to move around to other tables. The point of the retreat was to keep us off balance and away from your group of friends.
In between the lengthy and incredibly dull talks by the Kairos leaders, we split off into smaller groups of people. There we had our own leader, a fellow student who already went to Kairos once before. In these smaller groups we talked about our relationship with god and maybe other things about our life. The goal there was to make us open up about ourselves to strangers. They were careful to keep us away from our friends, I wasn’t that familiar with anyone in my small group. I remember one of the earlier discussions we talked about was how we felt god personally in our lives. I talked about nature, I always liked nature.
In our small groups we also worked on our own talks that we individually presented to the whole “class”. They were essays we wrote about our lives fitting some sort of theme. I remember I wrote about my grandparents, my sister, and my mother. Most of it was lies because I couldn’t think of anything to fit the theme and I wasn’t going to play their game. I remember one essay was supposed be about something I wish was better about my life and I had a terrible time with it because my life was pretty sweet.
The structure of our own talks were pretty loose and we were welcome to include improvisation and, to the joy of many fellow students, expletives. This created a cascading effect where talks gradually became more profane. The talks were also designed for us to “pour our heart out”. For the first two days they were pretty tame and, as previously mentioned, gouge your eyes out boring. During one of my talk preparations my group leader asked to go through my notes with me to find an idea of what I could write about, this was embarrassing since I had been writing nothing but “I feel this is important and I should write it down” repeatedly for the past couple days. Kairos is a fast way to feel cabin fever.
The last place we spent time in was the break room. This was just a regular room with snacks. The break room was adjacent to a dedicated smoking room, which was ridiculous. If we smoked at school we would have been expelled immediately, but on Kairos we could go to flavor country every couple hours! The first time we found the smoking room almost everyone went in it to be “cool”. Was it hypocritical to let students smoke on Kairos? Maybe, but I think it fed into the secretive mystique. This was a place young men were not used to, seemingly free of the usual rules we had to obey. Kairos was liberating us to feel like we could be ourselves, to curse, to smoke, or even cry in front of our peers.
I knew we didn’t get enough time to sleep the previous night since I had smuggled in a watch. It was less than a 7 hour gap from when they let us return to our rooms until the leaders knocked on our doors early in the morning. Many young men probably got much less sleep due to the unusual situation we were in. We were allowed time for showers and breakfast. The theme for the second day: Cry the second.
The day was, for the most part, a continuation of boredom: talks, discussions, Jesus, the usual. I suspect the dullness was intentional. After being on Kairos for two days, we were lulled into a sense of complacency. We were beginning to think this was going to be another regular religious retreat only with more swearing and smoking. We thought we could all leave this place on the fourth day without anything changing. Then the shouting began.Part 3