Last weekend I attended a retreat called Refine. It wasn't what I expected. Most retreats I have attended in the past had sessions and workshops throughout the day and we were filled with information to process in our downtime. This retreat had limited information or content and was filled with downtime, a two-hour art journaling session, worship and some guided reflection time. At first I was a bit put off by the lack of content - isn't that what we pay for on a retreat, after all? But as it turned out, the way of this retreat was just what I needed. It was just what God had in store for me.
I have been in a slump, a dry place, especially creatively, since late January. We dealt with a family crisis throughout the month of February which drained me emotionally. Add to that a week of illness in the midst of it and I have struggled to regain any sort of creative energy. And then the time for this retreat came along. On Friday evening Kris Camealy, our retreat host, laid out the weekend and shared her heart for our time. Using Psalm 66:1-12, and especially verse 12, Kris laid out the theme for our weekend as "a place of abundance".
"For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver....
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance."
Psalm 66:10 & 12
She called us to open our hands and release whatever we are holding onto that is holding us back from experiencing the abundance and freedom God has for us. On Friday evening and early Saturday morning I spent a good amount of time reflecting and journaling about this passage and the state of my mind and heart. And slowly I began to feel filled and rested. And then came the art journaling session led by Christine Hiester.
Oh, the art journaling session.....Christine started in a time of prayer and reflection to lead us into our art journaling time continuing the theme of open hands. My creative slump began to lift as ideas and images began to fill my mind. We filled our journal page, writing down the things that are holding us back, keeping us stuck, not allowing us to move in God's freedom. Then we covered our writing with paint and paper and and let the art flow! I felt so released and filled with creative energy! When the two hour session ended I quickly ate lunch and returned to the art room to keep going. When the afternoon art session began I simply switched rooms and made art until dinner time, feeling so refreshed by the creativity that filled my heart and my mind. I felt restored!
Over the past months, as I felt lost in this emotionally draining time, I didn't do the things I normally do to process life - journaling, art, blogging - I even had to miss scheduled times with my mentor during this time. I felt stuck and couldn't focus for long on these things that usually bring me life and energy. But this weekend in the midst of pine trees and the sacred surroundings of a retreat center that was once a convent; in the midst of a community of women, times of reflection, worship and downtime, God pulled me out of my slump and restored me. I am refreshed. My ability to journal and make art and blog has been renewed and I feel like...Me. A rested and restored me.
Since early January the word surrender, or synonyms such as let go or release, have been popping up everywhere. In songs, in books or blog posts I read, in Sunday morning messages. It popped up again at the retreat and became a theme for my weekend.
On Friday night Kris said:
"The way to a place of abundance is through surrender."
My word for this year is "whole", and I have had a sense through the first few months of the year that "surrender" is going to play a big part in living out this word.
Through this past week as I have reflected on the retreat, I have had a deeper awareness of things I have known about myself. Sometimes God has to tell me things a few times before they sink into my heart. Repeated, gentle, loving reminders. My creative slunps are usually not about a lack of creativity. They are usually an indicator of a deeper draining within me. I have become aware of how intricately connected my spiritual, emotional and creative health and energy are. When I'm drained emotionally I find it difficult to write in my journal and read the Bible, and even at times to pray. When I'm not writing in my journal and connecting to God through His Word and prayer, I find that my emotional and creative energy are impacted. So, the best prescription for me to remain healthy is to keep my heart and mind connected to God through His Word and prayer and writing in my journal, and then processing it all through art.
"Come and hear, all who fear God, And I will tell of what He has done for my soul." Psalm 66:16
We did a great exercise while at the retreat. We were asked to write down the baggage we brought with us onto pebbles. Things that were holding us back, things we didn't want to take back home with us, We were then told to leave them somewhere in the retreat grounds...leave them and don't take them back home.