By Mary Moore Easter
Out from the city into shorn corn fields, cold gray sky. Isolation or open space? When I arrive, a woman is taking a walk beyond a scrim of trees. From the parking lot I see her come around again and realize she’s walking the curves of a labyrinth in meditation. In view, beyond the meeting buildings, a descent through reeds to water. Two women wear boots to secure their footing down the slope and past the cross, imagining an easier season to breathe in the beauty of the place. From the first low building comes a group dressed for the temperature in knitted hats, gloves and scarves, faces unfamiliar at first out of the context of pews and parlor chairs.
We gather in the huge room that serves as chapel, one end glass that looks out on the signature view: lawn, cross, reeds, water, sky. Space above us, space beyond us, space among us in our circle of chairs. What makes the talk of forty women fade at the same time? Did Marilyn strike the ringing bowl as Victoria does at the start of worship? What I remember is the silence that settled on us. A prayer, an invitation to share our hopes for this season of our lives. We’ll mark our statements by placing our lit candles on the low table at the center of our circle.
People take their time. That’s what retreat offers – space and time. I listen as my hopes form into words, shaped both by my inner forces and by what I take in from the voices of the others. I feel aware of the pauses, of how much has to be threshed and sorted for deep hopes to surface. There are tears seen and intuited, signals of empathy and safety to share space, time and company – witness to the spoken and unspoken.
The candles accumulate, the light grows. That is the first evening. Listening for the Spirit in All Seasons of Our Lives is launched. After dinner some sauna-ed, some swam, some slept (me) and didn’t know a thing until morning yoga.
Day 2: If cold weather weekend gear showed an unfamiliar side of known women when I arrived, yoga at 6:45 in the morning revealed even more: women stretching, pretzel-ing their bodies and even jumping from downward dog to forward bend. More new ways of knowing each other! We welcomed breakfast and the willingness of kitchen staff to adjust. Toast! We needed toast!
We separated into groups according to our seasons. Inside our folders of poems and quotations, the clever planners had put designations on our nametags.
In small groups we set to work writing from prompts about meaning and gratitude. As we shared chosen lines for discussion, we arrived at the notion that deep meaning is something to be thankful for whatever occasions it. From later conversations this idea emerged in more than one group.
Halfway through the afternoon session, planners mixed our Spring, Summer and Autumn groups. Kay reminded us that Winter is a viable season, too. We weren’t just “late Autumn.” We wrote again about what needed to be cleared up in our season, what to let go in our lives. And by contrast what do we need to take hold of? Many stories emerged, many thoughts continue to resonate through our lives, in and out of church. We know each other more deeply for these explorations creatively undertaken and witnessed by each other. Free time for play was a part of our final afternoon: hiking, art, hanging out, pool/sauna, puzzles. I left early for appointments in the city world so I missed the closing circle. But the sense of togetherness stayed with me all the way home.
Gratitude to the planning committee for the meaningful space and time they provided us.
SAPUCC Women’s Retreat
Mt. Olivet Lutheran Retreat Center
March 24-25, 2017
Program: Marilyn Benson and Marge Grahn-Bowman
Logistics and Budget: Wendy Berg and Jill Oliveri
Myriad essential details: Lee Heilman, Leslie Amundson, Annette Spencer, Mary Divine, Reagan Mock-Nelson, Dawn Foster-Hartnett and Heather Vietz