Saturday, January 15, 2011

retreat in the flint hills - Dec. '10

Well, I'm still not ready to write about my personal experience of my 12/15/10 retreat, but kind folks have asked about it so I'll share what we did.  It really was a great time and I was/am deeply affected by it.

I went to the Tallgrass Spiritual Retreat Center:  It offers a wonderful variety of retreats, presentations, and space to make your own retreat.  Part of the appeal of this center is its location.  The Flint Hills in east-central Kansas are truly beautiful; rolling hills and valleys filled with fields, cows, streams, and a windmill here and there.  I wish my pictures did them justice.  But I was running a bit late, and my camera's coloring is off somehow, and I am a very amateur photographer, so all you can see here is a flat area going by at 60 mph.  (Are you starting to see a pattern in my photography?).  As a friend of mine from LA once said about western Kansas, "I've never seen so much...and so little!"

Now here's the backside of a great picture.  I'd foolishly just turned the camera off when I drove down a small slope dotted with trees and under a bridge with a bright orange train engine just passing overhead.  I mean, I could've won prizes with that picture.  Instead, I passed the bridge, pulled over, turned the camera back on, and captured this.  See what I mean?  Prizes, I tell you.

Anyway, the retreat was titled, "Marking a Passage" and had to do with recognizing and giving attention to any changes we've had in life recently.  We began with a ritual that reminds me of yoga's sun salutation; retreat facilitator (and center director) Billie Blair credits Joyce Rupp:

1.  Stand up and stretch your arms to the sky - giving thanks
2.  Reach your arms out to your sides and twist at the waist - acknowledging our brothers and sisters throughout the world
3.  Reach arms straight in front of you, palms up - giving of yourself
4.  Bring arms in and cup your hands together, holding them against your body - receiving
5.  Bend down and touch the floor - blessing and giving thanks for the earth
6.  Stand up and put hands flat, palm in, against your heart - I didn't write anything down after this step, but I bet you get the point.

Then Billie had us write down and answer the following questions:  "Why am I here?" and "How do I feel about my answer?"  Then she had us do it again.  Then she had us do it a third time.  It's interesting to see how your answers change as you go deeper.

Then she had us write the answer to the question, "How would I describe myself before (the passage/changes I'm marking today)?"

After lunch, Billie had us answer the following questions:  "What brought me here?"  "What do I want to acknowledge?" and "What is changing in my life that I've not been willing to see?"

To answer these questions, we could write in our journals or make a collage using pics pre-cut from magazines.  We probably could've also done an interpretive dance or written a song or painted a fence - whatever way worked best for us.  I chose to make a collage rather than write because it would be a different way to express my experience of the recent passages I'd traveled through.  I don't do much in the visual arts, and I thought it would be interesting to see what I ended up with:

The picture at the top left of the collage is a (fake) duck's rear end and legs - it was one of a set of three mounted on a board; it looked like a coat rack.  Anyway, I am fond of the image of ducks' rear ends - I'll share why another time.  (How's that for getting you hooked?  Or repulsed?)

We shared our answers to the questions with each other, then began a new activity.  With our dominant hand (hand we usually write with) Billie had us write down, "How have I been changed or am changing by this passage?" and "Is there a gift to be claimed?"  We had brought items to symbolize the passages we were marking, and we addressed each item with each question.  (I'd brought Chester and Oliver's name tags and my school/teacher ID from when I quit teaching special education in 2007.)  We wrote our responses to the questions using our non-dominant hand.  The changing of hands was very interesting to me; it is like walking a labyrinth: so simple, yet so powerful.  You turn off your autopilot and the automatic responses you might give to the question, and you access a different part of you - the whole you that God made - that you may not listen to very often.  Try it sometime.

(Now, if you grew up with a spiritual background similar to mine - protestant, evangelical - this activity would be akin to voodoo.  But the unusual methods in which the questions were asked and answered did not open me up to demons from hell, so don't worry.  It just gets you thinking, reflecting, praying, and listening outside of the box of your ordinary state of being.)

After further discussion and reflection, we ended the retreat by sharing what we had gained from it (that we were aware of at that point) and prayers for our continuing beyond the passage(s) we had marked.

I can't wait to go back.

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