I’m driving along a narrow, circuitous, leaf-covered, mountainous road that leads to and from what must surely be one of the most sacred places in West Virginia — Bluestone Camp & Retreat Center. It’s a legendary road of overheated brakes and slow passages, wicked reach-out-and-shake-your-own-hand curves, and enough wildlife lurking alongside the road to elicit a smile (or a gasp, depending on the wildlife).
This narrow road is a transition. For those arriving, it breeds patience, instills slowness, encourages deeper, richer breathing — although, for some drivers, perhaps hyperventilation. For those leaving, it sustains an enriched spirit, protecting that space in the heart that seems to fill up and overflow after each visit.
Today, the afternoon sun playfully paints stripes across the road. A message of a sort, if you’re inclined to that kind of thing. I am, so, yes: it carries a message. It’s a quantum flirt from the universe for me.
They are bold, these stripes, and I understand immediately that they punctuate the activity of the past two days. In the back of my mind hovers a remembered quote from Martin Luther King:
“Everything is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.”
My eyes on the road don’t see the trees; instead, they take in the shadows of those trees.
My colleague Lucas and I have just facilitated a group session with the Friends of Bluestone Board, the charitable arm of this serene and very special Presbyterian camp in southern West Virginia. It’s a board that’s driven to rekindle its direction, purpose, clarity, and vision, and it was truly our privilege to help them. I think we did that. And what emerged came from the shadows of things most of us “know” deep down but often have difficulty pulling from that deep, still place inside us, much less putting it into words that zing and resonate with power.
This weekend, an obviously communal knowledge emerged from the deeply personal stories each board member shared during a Story Council. Seated in a circle before the warmth of a fire snapping and roaring in the lodge’s towering stone hearth, we asked them to share what this special place meant to them. We hoped for individual, personal stories that resonated for each person. We got so much more: stories that shimmered with authenticity, that hung in the air, that brought goose bumps. Or tears.
Stories so eerily similar that we knew instinctively they live and thrive in that deep, sentient place we all share. Stories that simply underpin the Bluestone experience. They are archetypal, emerging from the ideal. Yes, we tapped into something very, very real.
These stories wove this rich, narrative tapestry:
Bluestone is a special, sacred place. It gets under the skin and burrows into the hearts of those whose paths intertwine with the camp. Lifelong relationships are forged here. So, too, then, is the ability to forge equally meaningful relationships throughout life. Bluestone fosters connections that are strong, true, and never really lost. There’s an unconditional love that springs from the deepest spiritual places. Leadership — especially servant leadership — is birthed and nurtured here. And for those whose paths intertwine with this place, it also takes root, sending its shoots out into the wider world. And there’s no doubt God is found in all of it.
In short, we discovered that Bluestone is the hub of a circle of thousands of people. Its spokes are Spirit, Connection, Love, Relationship, and Leadership. Those resilient, unbreakable spokes ensure the rim of that circle always holds firm and steadfast.
What an indelible impression!
No wonder the strong shadows of towering trees across the road merely serve to punctuate the weekend, to drive it home, to remind me as I travel that those weekend insights are rich and true and authentic.
I’m pleased by this confirmation: our personal stories hint at the unseen, at a bigger mission and a bigger purpose. Those stories, teased out of participants, are archetypal, anchored deep inside us. Whether we visit for a day, over the course of a lifetime, or over the years spent in summer camps or in church retreats.
Did I mention I was privileged to be part of this weekend? Yeah, that.