The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.
When I was growing up in an university town in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s, our church’s youth group was an important part of my life. It was not too different from TUXIS at Northminster of that same era. This was an exciting time of religious regeneration. We felt like we were reinventing religion as we sang our own generation’s music accompanied by guitar, and belted out songs from the latest pop musicals like “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Godspell.” We organized local service projects and traveled together on “Go and Serve” mission trips every summer.
We looked for answers to our burning questions in Bible studies using translations of the Bible in everyday language, shedding the stilted words of the past generations. And we went on some really cool retreat weekends that included a mixture of bonding experiences and spiritual nurturing. Our guides were dedicated pastors and leaders who were young enough to relate to us, yet mature enough to know how to herd cats.
One of our most memorable retreat destinations was an intriguing Tudor-style castle atop limestone bluffs along the Rock River, near Oregon, IL called “Stronghold.” It was built about 1930 as a summer home for Walter Strong, the owner and publisher of one of Chicago’s leading newspapers of the time. Inspired by the lavish Hearst Castle built by fellow newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst in California a decade before, it provided a safe-haven and an escape from the stresses of city life for Strong and his family.
Strong included hidden passageways and a secret chapel accessed by a moving bookcase in the library in his new home, making it an exciting place for our church retreats. We slept on cots in the round castle turrets and the former stable areas. The first thing on our agenda was to explore every mysterious nook and cranny, then we gathered to talk about such deep topics as the mystery of the Holy Spirit or the power of prayer. Stronghold provided the perfect venue for reflection and discovery, establishing grounding life experiences for the basis of our faith journeys.
Fast forward a generation, and my husband and I were herding cats of our own~ and our two little boys were enthralled with the father-son bonding experiences offered by our local YMCA. These experiences include monthly local get-aways to sites including on several occasions to… Stronghold! This special refuge for Walter Strong and his family had grown to be a well established safe and inviting venue for spiritual growth and grounding life experiences for generations to come.
Nurturing faith in the God of love provides a foundation for who we will become and whom we will turn to for strength when we need it. Advent is a time of reflection and discovery and a time to build a relationship with the One who is there to be our personal stronghold throughout our lives. That stronghold is Emanuel~ God with us.
Oh God, open our eyes and ears so that we might trust you fully and experience your love and care for us during this Advent season. Thank you for being our stronghold in times of need, and our caring companion all of the days of our lives. Amen.