Reflections on the Horizons Fellows Retreat by Megan Helbling '18

In a Day in the Life of Megan Helbling, Fridays are happily chaotic. I start the day at the Theological Horizon’s office, fulfilling my intern duties—which range from emails and spreadsheets to snuggling with Ginger, the Marsh’s mutt. The Vintage lunch welcomes friends by the droves, filling the space with food and the hum of life. Later, I scurry from one errand to another, running between appointments and coffee chats. Last Friday, one of those errands was to quickly pack a bag full of sweatpants and t-shirts and my favorite pillow. Soon after, the twelve Horizons Fellows (plus our loving leader, Christy) piled into three cars, and we began a pilgrimage to Corhaven, a Christian retreat center in the Shenandoah Valley. As my car exited Charlottesville and turned towards the mountains, an Avett Brother’s playlist and the rhythm of trees whizzing by our moving vehicle drowned out the busy hum of school, and only quiet beauty remained in its place.  

When we finally arrived at Corhaven, we were completely surrounded by pastoral serenity. My car dumped our belongings in the upstairs bedroom of the log-cabin retreat building, and were overcome with giddiness at the sight of cows and hay bales outside our window.  As we waited for the rest of the cars to arrive, we shuffled puzzle pieces around downstairs and tripped through an enormous vegetable garden. My relationships with each of the individual Fellows are diverse: some are my best friends, some I barely knew by name: but there was a warmth of unadulterated hospitality that infused the entire scene as we converged that made even the newest friends seem like family.

Besides serving as a reprieve from schoolwork, the purpose of the Horizons Retreat was to learn about each other and establish a groundwork for our future semester-long discussions surrounding vocation. As the sun began to set, we huddled onto couches and curled under blankets and began to listen as one by one, we shared our ‘stories’ with one another. We reflected on the ways that our pasts impact our present circumstances, and mused about how our stories thus far will inform our plans for the future. It was such a blessing to listen to, laugh at, and learn from each Fellow’s story. We are used to getting to know one another through lived experience: we discern incremental amalgamations of life through getting meals with others and learning what they are allergic to; by watching a movie together and noticing what parts make them cry; by being with them when they embarrass themselves and seeing how they laugh at themselves. The type of sharing we experienced at the retreat was beautiful in a different way. We were each given the ability to compose our stories, complete with a beginning, middle and end, with promises of sequels that we will have a front-row view of throughout the upcoming year. Even the friends who I’ve known for years presented their stories to me in new and exciting ways.

In her book On Beauty and Being Just, Elaine Scarry describes how “beauty is bound up with truth”. An objectively beautiful thing inspires convictions towards both the infinite (or the immortal), and therefore, especially from our Horizon’s Fellows’ religious perspective, towards what is true. She says, “beauty…has been perceived to be bound up with the immortal, for it prompts a search for a precedent, which in turn prompts a search for a still earlier precedent, and the mind keeps tripping backward until it at last reaches something that has no precedent”. Call me a transcendentalist, but I really believe that the absolute serenity and beauty that surrounded us at Corhaven prompted us to inquire deeply into our own and one another’s stories, as well as into the nature of God’s own purposes and presence throughout our lives. Scarry writes, “beauty is a starting place for education”--and in this case, the pastoral charm of Corhaven provided the necessary and important backdrop to begin learning about one another’s lives and discerning our personal futures. Bill Haley, the co-founder of Corhaven, also provided us with a teaching on vocation and laid a groundwork for us to think about finding God’s purposes for the upcoming year. We talked about how discovering fundamental truths about God’s character will be an important key to discerning how to faithfully follow God’s will in the upcoming years.

It's been a few weeks since this retreat, and each of us has returned to our weekly routines. As a fourth year, I’ve discovered that the victory lap of my college career is filled with ultimate familiarity of a place I’ve come to know and love so well, while also infused with the unpredictability and unknowableness of the future. Since our retreat, however, it’s been comforting to frame both my knowledge and lack thereof in the foundations of beautiful truth that I was reminded of while at Corhaven. Scarry writes, “Hymn and palinode—conviction and consciousness of error— reside inside most daily acts of encountering something beautiful”. My prayer is that each day, I would be able to recognize both the beauty of God’s immortal truths as well as her mortal creation, and that both of those things would convict me towards greater consciousness of God’s truth and promises regarding my lifelong vocation.

For more information on the Horizons Fellows program, a year-long vocation discipleship opportunity for 12 4th years, click here.