I’ve been a bit reluctant to write about my Personal Spiritual Formation Retreat (PSFR) experience for two reasons: First, because we were asked not to mention anything as that would ruin the experience for future students (this is a required course for all seniors) and secondly (primarily) because I do respect and appreciate some of the faculty at Nyack College.
Now to be fair, my experience was from 2010, therefore, I can’t say that every year is similar to my experience, nor can I recall every specific detail. In order to tell my story I broke down my experience into 3 categories: the Drama, the Wilderness, and the Filling.
The moment we arrived at our destination, we were not permitted to talk (only in case of an emergency). I can’t recall exactly why we were doing this, but it was probably to restrain us from acting out of line and to promote the seriousness of what was to take place that weekend.
As we entered the building, I was placed in a room with another student and we were not permitted to talk until the silence was lifted. I’m not gonna lie, it felt like I had entered a cult.
Later that evening, all the students were gathered into a small room with candles all around us. I can’t remember everything specifically, but I do recall that there was an opportunity to receive a spiritual name, a blessing, and/or healing. I mean come on, who doesn’t want healing! But I wasn’t injured or anything, so I figured, people are always telling me I’m too into knowledge and that I need to love more (seemed reasonable to me). So I went up to the healing section and waited in line for two women to pray a healing over me… By the time they were done, one lady said “What are you thinking?” I responded by saying “nothing.” She grinned, put her hand on my heart and said, “That’s great!”… (so if anyone ever tells me that I’m too much head and not enough heart, I can honestly say: “No, your wrong. I was healed of that crippling disease…”)
The next morning, I was led out to the wilderness. My team leader led me down to the valley where there was this small stream. It was a nice spot, unfortunately this would be my spot for the next 3 hours. My instructions were to remain there, reflect, and listen to God until my group leader returned (because, apparently God had something to say to me that wasn’t in the Bible). But why by the stream?!? Apparently my group leaders have been praying for quite some time and this is where God wanted me… (shrug) Well, who’s gonna argue with God right? I stayed for about an hour, meditating on God’s Word (thankfully I brought my Bible as others were not so fortunate), until I started getting irritated. Frankly, this “exercise” was pretty stupid, so I left my post and went to search for other students who were in my group. To my surprise I found them, but apparently they were more studious than I, and were adamant about remaining where they were. I hung around for a while to chat and later walked back down to the stream in case there were repercussions for abandoning my post. I waited… and waited… and waited… but no leader came to remove me. Irritated, I started getting pissed and wanted to do some physical damage to the leaders, but alas, my fleshly desires were restrained. Finally after 3+ hours my leader came and got me (I was happy again).
That evening I got to hear the stories of others whom “God had spoken to”. A lot of their stories had to do with anger and sadness (I felt like: “wow, me too!” Then again who wouldn’t be angry after being left in the wilderness for hours?). Well, what was the cause of their anger and sadness? Apparently, it wasn’t because they were left without food and communication for a number of hours, but because of some childhood experience. For example, a friend of mine was given a bat, and he got to beat a tree with that bat until he realized why he was so upset… (why didn’t I get a bat?! I wanted to hit a tree…)
Anyway, after coming to Westminster Seminary California, I learned about the Anabaptists. And do you know what they use to do? Go into the wilderness, listen to God, and prophesy like crazy people… *ding*ding
The last night we were there was probably the weirdest experience of my life. I had witnessed a “filling of the Spirit” (so they say). So this is how it played out. People were supposedly “filled with the Spirit,” and that caused them to dance (yes, like David danced). Then it go weirder, David didn’t have any streamers, but we sure did. Students were dancing and jumping around with streamers; screaming their heads off, doing cartwheels and flips like they had received a special anointing.
It was so weird and chaotic that another student and I, trying not to look suspicious raised our hands (don’t worry, we weren’t fully extended) to avoid any further “spirit slaying”… This didn’t work. An asian lady who had prayed a healing over me ran to me and had me dance in the spirit with her… “Let loose” she cried as she dragged me to dance… I replied back, “I don’t want too…” After a minute or so of awkwardly forcing me to dance “in the spirit,” it finally dawned on her that I was in fact not interested and perhaps even “quenching the spirit.” Thankfully she left me alone…
After that weekend had passed, all the students were gathered to another room on campus where students had an opportunity to share what God had shared with them. I recall one student prophesying to us, and another student boldly proclaiming that she didn’t notice change in her. And as a means to comfort her, the Professors just said, “don’t worry, you will. You may reflect on this later in your life and it may just hit you…”
All in all, Nyack’s Spiritual Formation Retreat was a weird event and an attempt to manipulate their students to accept a “second blessing” and charismatic theology. There was nothing that weekend that I would want anyone to go through. It was full of a false spirit, and a false presence of God. If I had known that this was going to happen at Nyack, I would’ve checked myself into another college…