Sometime last spring my friend Shannon asked if I would be interested in leading a women’s retreat for her church. She’s the Director of Children and Youth there – she could have easily led the retreat herself (and done a fantastic job, I know!). However, she wanted to be fed too – she needed a retreat for herself. Although she did handle the logistics, she was not in charge of programming or facilitation, so she was given a weekend to be fed spiritually with her church family.
Of course I jumped at the opportunity! I went from writing and facilitating retreats multiple times a year for 14 years to none at all. I missed the community building, the time away, the inside jokes, the powerful spiritual moments. I missed seeing what I wrote on paper come to life in front of me. I missed playing my guitar and leading a group in song. I missed showing up for a meal having it ready for me to eat! 🙂
When I met with Shannon to talk about what direction the retreat should take, I learned more about her church. They are in a time of transition – they sold their building, changed their name, and are meeting in a temporary space until the new site is ready for a building. It had been years since they had a women’s retreat, so there would need to be time for creating community and building trust.
As I started to brainstorm ideas for this retreat, I had to begin with their new name – Tapestry Church. This name comes from Colossians 2 (The Message version). I began to think how tapestries are often landscapes and from there the retreat was born.
I pulled a few blessings from John O’Donohue’s book To Bless the Space Between Us. In one of those blessings he refers to an “invisible geography” and in one of Jan Richardson’s books she wrote about our “interior terrain.” So, I decided to invite the group to explore their internal landscapes while considering how their external landscapes do or don’t align with what’s going on internally.
We had individual times for reflection. They paired up to share new insights. We had large group discussions. In each moment I saw women taking risks – sharing heartfelt moments of disappointment, caring for one another, being authentic with the group. I saw them being courageous – speaking up when everyone else was quiet, naming the change they saw taking place in their group, letting the tears flow in a moment of vulnerability.
These opportunities of vulnerability made the time outside of programming more authentic. Rather than sitting two to three to a table for a meal, like the first night, the tables were full with extra chairs being added to make room for one more person. Instead of sitting alone on the porch, women were gathered around each other with their morning coffee sharing stories. People were pulled from their afternoon naps because the laughter down the hall was contagious. By creating quiet moments of reflection and introspection, community was developing.
Since the retreat, emails have gone back and forth – sharing gratitude for the time together and appreciation for a weekend away. In fact, just today it was suggested that the group start to meet monthly – they don’t want to lose what was created, they want to keep the connection strong.
In the past I created and facilitated retreats for people I knew – for “my” youth, for the volunteers I knew. When the retreat was over, I still saw the participants – we reminisced and laughed and were grateful for the time we shared together. The only reason I’m aware of what’s still going on with these women is because I was on the email chain that got started just a few days before we all met in Brookston, IN. There are times that I’m annoyed by “reply all” but not this time. This time I get to see the fruit of that retreat continue to blossom – I get to be a fly on the wall as they discover who they are as a new community. Many of them already knew each other, but this specific group of people had never been together before. They are a new community – one full of love and laughter and deep compassion for one another.
I know I was asked to create something for them, to offer them a moment of solitude and connection. However, I also received a gift last weekend – I was given the opportunity to create, facilitate and watch the rest unfold. I was offered the gift of community, even for a short moment in time. I was welcomed into the lives of strangers with open arms and kind smiles. Through their retreat, I got to do something I love.