Arriving home from school, I find a letter addressed to 'My Son'. Expectantly, I tear it open hoping for a late birthday present. It wasn't. It read, ‘Now that you have turned 18, it's time you participate in the family tradition...’
Tradition? I know nothing of this!
‘We’ll pick you up 10am Sunday morning. Bring wet gear, extra warm clothing, your walking boots, and whatever else you want, that you can carry...
With mounting trepidation I wait for Sunday. Even ringing my uncle didn't help, will just have to wait till Sunday morning, have already repacked my rucksack six times.
Dad's friend turns up in an old beaten-up estate car. Dear God, please help us not break down. ‘Get in!’ he bellows, ‘and don't speak.’
What have I been signed up for?
We drive for forty minutes in silence. I hate silence. What a shame I’m required to remain silent .‘Can I put on the radio?’ I ask.
“I said, NO talking!”
An hour and a half later, we arrive at a field where I find another thirty four men of various ages. My not very talkative driver hands me a tent and instructs me pitch it and clear my gear away. If you want the toilet, use the trees over there or a portaloo up that path. When you hear a bell, go to the large marquee in the next field
After setting up, a few men come over and introduce themselves as guides for this journey. Guides... I don't even know where I am. They tell me to go and chat with the others for they will be your companions for the rest of the week.
The next few days are a blare of activities and sessions; some incredibly powerful and challenging, but too painful to talk about here.
This is now the penultimate day of a week-long event where I have been stretched, worn down and rebuilt in an ongoing cycle.
Now I have been silent for over twenty hours, something that if you know me would let you understand how difficult this part was.
The only sounds were the wind, gently rustling through the trees and the cry of a kite , searching for sustenance. Nature is such an awe-inspiring and grounding influence. No wonder God made so much of it.
I am currently moulded between a boulder and an outcrop of Scottish heather, shivering with rain cascading over all parts of my body. The cold has penetrated through five layers; I came prepared for the worse and it found me. This should be a warm July afternoon. Unfortunately, this has turned into the coldest, wettest July in years. After squelching through bracken and climbing over slippery, slimy boulders I find my quiet place. It overlooks a slowly meandering river and is surrounded by steep hills on three sides. Dragonflies hover over the rippling water scooping up small insects, while a salmon leaps ever onward, following a pre-ordained journey to its spawning ground.
Nature and I are one.
Nope, we are not! I am freezing, hungry, tired and miss talking to someone. But what I have had is a chance to seek and hopefully find out who I am.
I learnt that in the old days, the elders would take the young men out into the wilderness for initiation, to discover what it means to be a man. This is what this week has been all about. It has helped me ground myself in God’s wonderful creation. But more importantly, what it means to be a man; not just in a worldly sense, but for me as a young man of God.
Now they are herding us onto a bus and yes, you've got it: no talking.
I arrive back exhausted, hungry and looking forward to a warm shower. Yes, it's a portable shower as well. Walking into the marquee, I get the shock of my life. My dad is standing waiting for me. I run over and give him a hug. 'Thanks Dad! Thank you for the invite.'
This whole experience has been a lesson in understanding how I tick, and coping with difficult situations