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Seeing What Love Can Do
Greetings lovely one,
I’ve shared that I’ve been on quite a few spiritual retreats over the years. Most have been unstructured, personal retreats where I’ve stayed with different communities of religious Sisters for personal prayer time and quiet reflection. This is a more recent spiritual practice. It wasn't until returning from a pilgrimage to Spain where I studied mysticism and Carmelite spirituality that I began to take retreats seriously.
I already knew that I didn't have to travel the world to deepen my faith. Nevertheless, I enjoy travel companions and learned I could stay at local retreat centers or guest rooms at monasteries and devote my time to contemplative practices with other travelers or alone. These retreats have become an essential part of my personal soul care and self-care routine. However, my very first personal retreat was a silent retreat and I was so uncomfortable and unsure of what to do with myself that I ended up sleeping through most of it!
I so appreciated this quote from Cindy S. Lee’s book, “Our Unforming: De-Westernizing Spiritual Formation,” after she confesses to falling asleep when praying in bed or how her devotionals collected dust. “When being a Christian is primarily measured by the amount of Scripture reading, prayer, and volunteering one does, I am a perpetual failure.” (I feel ya, sister)
Last year was a huge transitional year for me and this year is a continuation of that, so I didn’t think I’d be able to afford, let alone find time to go away on any in-person retreats. So, I’m really glad to share that the weekend before I professed my vows as an ecumenical Sister with The Sisters For Christian Community, I was able to join a group retreat hosted by Honolulu Friends Meeting. I learned that Quakers from the different islands that make up Hawaii would be in attendance and it would be their largest gathering yet.
In continuing with my desire to walk the way of love, I noted that the retreat would center around the theme “Let us see what love can do.” It sparked my curiosity which is a good spiritual practice to have because curiosity helps us open ourselves up to a deeper relationship with the Holy. It’s one of the ways I engage in dialogue with my Beloved. So, I asked: Did seeing what love can do mean taking time to witness love from the outside looking in? Was it meant to encourage us to be recipients of love instead of the captain of team “love is an action verb” ? Or were we being asked to rest in the gift of love?
Resting doesn’t always come easy for me. Even though I’ve been a servant leader, a disciple, a nonprofiteer, or involved with some type of ministry throughout my life, I often feel that I still haven’t shown love the way I feel the world needs — especially to regain some kind of balance between people who work for positive change and people who use power and privilege to marginalize others. If I’m being honest, I still need to water my self-love tree more regularly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fully aware that I am no savior, nor do I want to be. But I struggle with feeling the need to rest and feeling like there’s so much work to do … and that I’m too young to be this tired.
However, I know that burnout is real, as is workaholism, and yeah, compassion fatigue too. Audrey Lourde shares that
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Tricia Hersey follows up in a similar manner:
“We won't be able to imagine, invent, restore, and rebuild this new liberated world without resting.”
Indeed, in our rest, we come alive. A practice that is often suggested to changemakers in alignment with rest and other acts of self-care is gratitude. And I believe gratitude makes for a more joyful life.
But as I thought more about what love can do, I realized that the first half of Romans 12:15 also reminds us to “rejoice with those who rejoice.” I want to encourage all of us to also remember the practice of consciously pausing to celebrate. Like really sitting with someone’s good news by being joyful with the person. I’d like to believe that we can feel one another’s genuine well wishes.
While at the retreat, I thought more about seeing what love can do and began to feel that guilt again around rest, as everyone shared about their favorite parts of the retreat which involved activities that I wasn’t as enthusiastic about. How could I celebrate the joyful time Friends experienced while I kept feeling like I wanted to go home to Netflix and chill? This is a light example, because depending on the season we are in, it can feel like serious work to be joyful for other people when we’re struggling so much. But by the third and final day of the retreat, early in the morning — before anyone else came out in the community gathering space — I sat journaling about my deeply felt response to the “What was your favorite part of this retreat?” question.
I realized that each night I was there, when almost everyone had gone off to bed, I stayed in the dimly lit community space along with two other Friends. I sipped my herbal tea while they enjoyed whatever beverage they had in their cups. We talked some, laughed some, or just sat in companionable silence when the conversation lulled. In the mornings, I discovered we were also early risers and we kept each other company before everyone else came in for breakfast. Love to me in those moments was the space we held for each other … the loving, open, curious space we co-created which allowed love to flow in our midst. In our ministry of presence to one another, I was able to hear love’s whisper of “I see you” “I see me” “I see us” all up in our jammies, no shame, no blame, no check boxes, just celebrating each other for the beautiful humans we are and being enough.
I’m not even sure why I originally felt bad about the unplanned, ad-lib portion of time being my favorite part of the retreat … quality time is my primary love language (especially when it’s coupled with good food). And as an introvert the intimacy of a group of four (counting the Spirit) worked much better for calming my anxious nerves and soothing my restless soul. What love did and continues to do is to show me the multiple ways I can learn acceptance, care, belonging, even when I’m resting.
I don’t know about you, but I need reminders like that every now and again, that grace is sufficient and that one of the ways we can witness love at work, is loving for love’s sake.
Peace, Love, and Wellness,
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Coming up: Excited to join this online Illuminate Summer Speaker Series hosted by Pendle Hill with Barclay Press. This series will take place on select Monday evenings from June through August with fellow authors of “Illuminate: Minor Prophets,” a recent publication in the Barclay Press Illuminate Friends Bible Study Series. Speakers will share insights from their studies as they prepared the lessons and “Friendly Perspectives” in this series. Each night will feature a different book with different presenting authors. See the full schedule and reserve your virtual seat on our website: https://pendlehill.org/events/illuminate-summer-speaker-series-2023/.
Available now: I’m a contributing writer to the latest edition of “Illuminate” — the only Bible study curriculum written by Friends (Quakers). Faith groups and communities all over the U.S. and some in other countries will be using this study guide in March, April, and May. So can you! You can purchase a print or digital copy of Illuminate here.
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Since I was on the topic, here are 7 Reasons You Should Consider Retreats.
Muse of the month
Blerd’s the word
Came across this development-phase web series some time ago called “The Brave Ones,” by Kendrick West and wanted to give it a plug:
According to the creator, “The series will be an action heavy, political thriller with 80s Hong Kong-style fight scenes.”