Seven years ago, I produced my first retreat. Joan Borysenko was, at the time, a neighbor of mine and she agreed to come hang out in my living room for a day with twelve women. The idea was that with Joan as a facilitator, we would all be encouraged to be with each other in a purposeful and authentic way. Unplugged from cell phones, computers and the obligations of work and family, we gathered. It was a day of deep camaraderie, tears, laughter and the sharing of dreams. I felt a great sense of joy in bringing all of us together, and I enjoyed that everyone got to slow down and ponder the mystery and miracle of our lives, taking time to celebrate and appreciate each other.
With the advent of each autumn since, I have planned a retreat. Just before I moved from Colorado to Oregon, I found myself sitting in the back of a large conference room, filled with two hundred and fifty people who I brought together to immerse in the study and contemplation of the great mystic, Meister Eckhart. A former Trappist monk, Dr. James Finley, facilitated the three days. I learned that I had the skill set to produce larger retreats. And in James, I found a friend and ally who is a valuable touchstone in my journey.
Here again at the edge of autumn, I am about to do yet another retreat, this time in Belgium. Oh brave, new world. My friend Susan is a dynamic minister and group leader. Our friendship became a partnership as we planned an plotted and signed up individuals with whom we will share the next ten days. Like the first retreats in my living room, this is a small group. And unlike the first retreats, I now teach a writing component entitled “Deepening Your Spiritual Story, the Arc of Memoir.” It’s probably more accurate to say that I share what I know about the philosophy and process of writing as opposed to teaching writing. What I do is kind of coaxing that will hopefully inspire stories and images to arise from the heart.
Each year the retreats I produce change me. One retreat, I reclaimed the young woman who wrote. She had been pushed aside and overlooked. Life sometime intervenes in our dreams and you have to pick up the pieces later. In meeting her again, I began writing daily– blogs, short stories, essays and journals. And I began to teach. I mostly worked with incarcerated women, a group who reminded me that my life has too many blessings to count. My students in the jail taught me how to be grateful for the smallest things.
So, tomorrow morning at 5:00am I leave for Belgium to be with fourteen people who will be my community for the next couple of weeks. We will trace the footsteps of a group of 11th century feminist mystics, called the Beguines. We will meet up with Mathew Fox and listen to him speak from the pulpit where Meister Eckhart once preached.
We will spend days visiting the places where lace is hand-made, one of the ways that the Beguines supported themselves financially. We will have morning prayers and meditations and late afternoon process groups. And just like that first little retreat in my living room, each person will be unplugged from the digital world, enter a world of heart-touch and share our lives. I love learning about other people, about their faith and what it is they hold as good.
What will I learn in Belgium? How will this change me? Peace within and peace for all? A reclamation of the parts of self that are broken and cast away? A whispering from a Beguine sister that comes as a light September breeze, inspiring a contemplation of community? I can’t say for sure, but I do know that it will change me and push me toward the growing edge of my life.
Stay tuned for my adventure of blogging through Belgium. The plane leaves at 5:00. I’m a little nervous about whether or not I have packed all the right stuff. I am going with an open heart, a curious mind, and a sense of adventure. If I throw in some gratitude, I should have everything that I need for the journey.