French Walking Retreat Comes to Wyoming
By Fr. Bill Hill, Pastor of Holy Spirit Catholic Community
I do plenty of strange things, like run 100 miles in the Bighorns, but July 2018 found me exploring new frontiers both physically and spiritually. I donned a matching woolen tunic and set off with five French strangers for a “Goum,” walking 90 miles in 8 days down county roads and cross country in the Laramie Peak area of Albany and Converse counties. We slept under the stars, celebrated Mass daily, ate limited rations, spent an hour daily in quiet prayer, and tried to rely totally on God’s grace.
These treks have been occurring for almost 50 years in France, Morocco, Mexico, Israel, and many European countries. Perhaps it is a bit of a rite of passage experience. Certainly it is an experience of radical detachment- going into the desert with Christ, in a way utterly different from our daily life. Maybe this desire to break out of the routine and create space for Christ to work in a new and powerful manner can help explain why young adults are drawn to it. And frankly, it worked for me. These treks are designed to be difficult for most people but also within the capacities of most young adults, walking daily with minimal gear.
I most vividly experienced my dependence on God- abandoning myself to Christ- at the end of Day 5. It had been a long day of walking and I was tired. A powerful mountain thunderstorm blew up, forcing us to take cover under a small rock overhang as we ate our meager meal of a couple cups of white rice and beef bouillon. As the rain dripped down my back from the rock above, I realized it was my 39thbirthday and I was miserable. After the rain cleared, we clambered from our shelter and were treated to a breathtaking double rainbow. While my mood was still dark I recognized that we had indeed been perfectly cared for by the Providence of God.
Entering into this “other space” of a Goum made me truly appreciate the gift of dry space, the gift of the rainbow, the gift of hot food and the service of others. I was opened to seeing the Providence of God in the hospitality of strangers: random ranchers and strangers who gave directions, allowed access, and unexpectedly provided a cup of cold well water. This experience of Goum forced me to see again my utter dependence on God, my fragility, and the care of God for us all.
We are currently planning another Goum trek for July 19-27, 2019 in the Red Desert and South Pass areas of Wyoming. If you are curious please contact me at bhill at theholyspiritparish.com or Stéphane de Saint. Albin at sdesaintalbin at yahoo.com
Oh, and you’re certainly still puzzling on the mystery of the woolen Moroccan hiking tunics. Think of it as part team uniform and part religious habit. A tangible reminder that, at least for this one week, we are in a different space, dedicated to God and each other, open to whatever experience may come. See you in July.