We tried to reduce the risk with the new Delta variant. All participants were vaccinated and any singing we did was outdoors or we were completely masked.
In past years, retreatants would come from lives that were hectic, over-scheduled and full of people, commitments, and activities. The silence was a healing balm for the spirit. Healing silence was a feature of this year’s retreat as well, but for many, this was the first time they were in the company of a group of in the flesh humans. We all had wounds, traumas, fears and griefs from the ongoing pandemic. There was more need to process out loud in group sessions. The sharing in spiritual direction tended to deal with deeper life issues.
Almost all the participants dug deep into the practices for healing trauma that were presented in the group read, My Grandmother’s Hands. The workshops gave participants the opportunity to work with what came up in the silence and spiritual practice as well.
All in all, this year’s retreat was intense and deep. We held each other in the silence and when we spoke, creating safety. We sang and sang. We did walking meditation and walked the labyrinth. We did Qi Gong and other body practices. We listened to what our hearts and spirits were telling us.
Post by Rev. Lucy Bunch, Spiritual Director
Many retreatants come to Spiritrest with a specific idea of something they want to contemplate or process. There is certainly tremendous opportunity for this kind of retreat with workshops and spiritual direction, as well as personal time for solitude.
But this year I came to SpiritRest with the goal of resting. Of course I have responsibilities as one of the spiritual directors and workshop leaders, but otherwise I have been resting. It has been a hard year and I am quite worn down, struggling to find joy in my work, to find joy in anything.
So I have been sleeping a lot, and when I am not leading or meeting, doing quite a bit of nothing. You might even say I’ve been moping a bit, hoping to find my way back to joy, but not really committed to the process.
But the Great Mother had other ideas for me. She has put on quite a show to lift my spirits. Her first gift was the spider web. I was sitting in a chair rocking (one of our settling practices) and maybe moping at bit, when I saw it. It was so magnificent I gasped. Hanging between two trees, its intricate design was captured in the sunlight.
The nest day her gift was a bunny, and not just any bunny, but an adorable one with a white cotton tail. I was eating breakfast outside, minding my own business, when it hopped on over. Generally, my experience with bunnies is that they scurry away when they see people. Not this one – it paused right in front of me and posed, as if for my benefit. Who can resist the charm of a bunny? I didn’t even try.
The next evening, it was a racoon. I had never seen one that close. It was nighttime and most people had gone to bed. He was perched on the edge of the garbage can rummaging through the contents. He looked up – our eyes met. It was startling and amazing.
Then this morning, coming down the stairs after breakfast, there was a peacock standing there in all its its strutting glory. I had just been reading a story about a peacock the night before! The blue of his feathers was so incredibly beautiful it startled me – again. I felt a wry amusement and said a quick prayer – OK Mother Spirit, I get it, I feel it. You have startled me into joy with these gifts of beauty. You have helped me to remember, to take in and connect with your gifts.
It is our last full day of retreat and right now, those who choose are attending a workshop titled “Reflect, Release, Integrate and Ground.” That pretty much sums up the task for this day. We have deepened in our time here; hearts are open, and spirits are engaged. But we are also holding the awareness that tomorrow we will be going back to the real world, the one where people talk (al lot!), where there is traffic, and laundry, and people or projects that will take our time and energy. And so we savor this last day, and consider what we want to take with us from this experience. I have learned to be more present with the beauty that is right before my eyes, to pause and take delight. I know I don’t have to go to a retreat center to find this beauty, it is everywhere on our wonderful planet. But I did have to come to SpiritRest to remind myself to stop, to look, and to take joy and delight in the beauty that was waiting for me. Thank you Great Mother for your blessings.
Post by Rev. Stefanie Etzbach-Dale, Spiritual Director
This year’s retreat feels different. Because it is.
SpiritRest 2021 was designed with a specific focus beyond being a space for UUs to engage in personal spiritual reflection.
It was designed to bring attention and care to the many changes and challenges suffered not only in response to racism and social inequities, but also those related to the pandemic.
These changes and challenges are ongoing; the stress of vigilance continues. It’s clear that chronic stress wreaks havoc on bodies, minds and spirits. It can make it so hard to stay present to life’s challenges, to recognize its beauty and potential.
This year’s retreat is woven in support of all these realities - offering a variety of stories, metaphors, embodied experiences, and spiritual practices as tools for resilience.
One story told yesterday invited us to consider and keep watch for the unity/the divinity reflected within each and every person, thing, and experience. Even those that feel radically “different” or uncomfortable.
Life is diverse and complex and often feels fragmented. This story invited presence and “holy curiosity” in response to all of it; to not look away and to recognize sacred purpose in the work of piecing together meaning and wholeness.
Another story made a comparison between our bodies and the biblical “holy ark.” Our precious cargo consists not only of our highest ideals and intentions, but also our traumas, regrets, and shortcomings. We carry and are affected by all of them.
It can be life-giving to choose to consider that “God” (unity/healing, etc.) is in ALL those pieces; in EVERY part of us, in every moment, as we journey toward freedom.
This story reveals that God is also in the spaciousness within and between us.
So we are invited to protect that space.
SpiritRest has always been a special experience for me, both as a participant and as a Spiritual Director. But this year it feels especially precious.
This year, instead of reveling in the intentional simplicity and solitude of retreat from the crush of “too many people and obligations,” I find myself overcome with gratitude for the spacious nearness of other human beings.
It’s been a long time. What a delicious sense of abundance and joy to sit together (masked and safely spaced outdoors), singing songs of comfort and faith.
I see such authenticity, such vulnerability and mutual respect in the eyes of those beside whom I move silently through the cycle of each day. It makes me aware of how much is missed when our paths cross only online.
Today is our third full day together.
As I write this, I hear a gentle voice in the lounge guiding retreatants into body grounding practices.
It is a warm, slightly overcast SoCal morning. I hear birds singing; a bunny nibbles at the grass in the garden; the scent of roses fills the air.
All of it is “ordinary”. And yet…
Rev. Stefanie Etzbach-Dale
8:30 AM – I connected with my first spiritual directee. The two of us gathering around my altar (pictured here). She shared and I served as an instrument of the Divine. She left feeling ministered to. Awesome!
11:30 – Qi gong captured my attention. Shyly I made my way to the flower lined patio and joined several comrades, some with bare feet, posed on the still dewy grass. With patience and humor, my colleague Rev. Lucy Bunch, lead us through the 8 Brocades of Qi gong. My favorite movement was the Eye of the Tiger. Powerful stuff. One session and I am convinced to try again. YAHOO, new spiritual practice!!
There was a yummy Greek salad for lunch and white fish with a lemon herb sauce for dinner. How sweet it is to eat healthy food that I did not have to prepare on dishes that I did not have to load into the dishwasher or wash by hand. What a privilege. Thank you, Mary & Joseph Retreat staff.
7:30 PM – Taizé inspired signing out by the Labyrinth. Our sun is setting. The air is chilly with a gentle breeze floating over the hill. All the song sheets are given out. Folx still arriving - we must share. A second wooden bench is put in place to accommodate the number of enthusiastic participants and to provide some measure of social distancing. Masks cover our nose and mouth. We lift our voices in soul stirring harmonies. Some of us begin to cry. It is emotionally overwhelming to sing together. It is good to be together. An inspiring way to break the silence at the close of our second day.
8:00PM – Vespers. Still vibrating from the experience of singing; we slowly stroll to the Chapel. Once again, we dawn our Mask to sing. Then we are transported to the world of trees. Rev. Sharon Wylie reads aloud from the Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. Our souls are reminded of the majesty and splendor of trees and our interconnected web. Did you know that trees are about 50% water and we humans are 60% water? We are related.
8:30 - Self Soothing. Many of us have traveled many journeys this day. For a brief 20 minutes folx are invited to find a comfortable spot to be in the Chapel. Yoga mats, pillows, eye coverings and snuggly blankets appear. Mother earth holds us as we rock and sway with the images in the meditation. We prepare to sleep, to let go and make way for the body to restore the body.
My soul feels peaceful and ready to bid this day adieu. I make my way to the lounge where there is an urn of hot water at the ready for tea and an oversized bag of gourmet popcorn. Seated in front of the large wall to wall window facing the Courtyard I make myself comfortable. Eyes softly gazing upon the night beauty through the glass. Low and behold a handsome raccoon appears. And another and another. For a short while, we companion each other as we enjoy our respective snacks from our semi-protected places. Surely Spirit is in this place. Good night and blessed be!
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Anais Nin
Some people arrive here to take a break from serious family situations. Some people arrive during a larger time of rest: a vacation or sabbatical. Whatever our personal situations, many of us arrive here tired and worn out.
One of the great blessings of retreat is simplicity—meals are taken care of, and there is nothing to do except what you want to do. Arriving Sunday evening and having dinner taken care of is immediately its own kind of bliss.
During our orientation session, Arvid leads us in a loving kindness meditation. It is an immediate relief to slow down, to ground and center, to offer ourselves and others love, compassion, and wishes for well being.
It will take a few days to leave behind the jitteriness of the outside world. But just arriving here and being in a different space, feeling the invitation to slow down and just be, is an enormous blessing. I’m grateful to be here, and I’m looking forward to the days ahead.
Post by Rev. Sharon Wylie, Worship Leader
Our in-person retreat at Mary & Joseph Retreat Center in 2020 has been cancelled. Everyone who has registered will receive a full refund.
SpiritRest leaders are discussing the possibility of finding a new way to support our shared mission of inviting and encouraging deep spiritual engagement and practice this year.
SpiritRest Silent Retreat is scheduled at Mary & Joseph Retreat Center in 2021 for August 8-13.
And we also heard how the retreat fed and nourished those who came. Some of the comments were:
It is a joy and a privilege to help create an experience that has proven so powerful in providing a supportive framework in which people can do meaningful spiritual work and exploration.
We will return to Mary & Joseph Retreat Center next year July 26-31 for our fifth SpiritRest Silent Retreat. We hope to see you at SpiritRest 2020!
Post by Rev. Stefanie Etzbach-Dale, Spiritual Director
The theme for this year’s retreat is “the journey” - and as we journey through the week together, I’m appreciating the many ways we're being encouraged to engage with that theme.
The labyrinth has been lifted up during our evening worship services as a powerful symbol for how we journey through life. Since there’s actually a beautiful one on site, we’ve been able to engage with it as a tool, experiencing our own individual and group walking meditations in the labyrinth.
Another powerful symbol and tool, found in many spiritual traditions, is the Tree of Life.
Over the course of three days, employing meditation, collage, personal sharing, and prayer, participants in the group I led were able come closer to their understanding of God and Ultimate Reality by “traveling up the tree."
Starting at the roots, representing family and culture, retreatants were asked to visually express and then share what they learned about God or Ultimate Reality as children. The resultant images portrayed God as outside of time, as creator of great beauty, but also as controlling, removed, unknowable, grouchy and craving adoration.
Moving into the trunk, representing the development of individual identity and feelings, folks were asked what they fear to be true about God. There were images of hellfire, of loneliness, brokenness, and desolation, of needing to face the truth about ourselves. We ended that session by offering prayers to one another.
Moving into the branches, representing a trans-personal perspective, participants were asked what they now believe to be most true about God and Ultimate Reality, and what truth they wish to journey into. Those images centered around beauty and joy, around nature and earth’s resilience, human arrogance and interconnectivity, and the freedom and joy that can found when we surrender arrogance and realize it’s never too late to grow and change.
What a journey!
Participants in this group expressed deep appreciation for both the questions and the process, which was described as “accessible even to those who don’t normally do creative stuff.” And I was deeply moved by the the sweet intimacy that developed among us so quickly, as we silently worked on our images, were surprised by the results, and then presented them to one another.
“Spiritual intimacy is what many people hope for when they seek out a religious home,” I thought. “Sometimes you just have to journey away from home in order to find the connections and clarity you’re looking for. The challenge then is to bring those gifts back home with you!”
May your journeys unfold in beauty, with awe, gratitude, renewed faith, and joyful purpose.
Post by Rev. Dr. Arvid Straube, Lead Spiritual Director
Walking meditation happens every day right before breakfast. We pay attention to our breathing and to the feeling of our feet pressing the earth. Massaging the earth, as Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says. We do this together. When the bell rings, we all pause and take three mindful breaths. After that, if our mind has wandered, we begin again.
We notice things that make us happy. The air is perfect. The breezes are soft. We walk in a beautifully landscaped garden. There is a hummingbird! Flowers of many colors and shapes delight our eyes. We walk by the rose garden and smell the divine fragrance.
We walk past some of our fellow retreatants. Some are writing in their journals. Others are drawing and painting. Others are simply sitting, maybe with a beverage. We see a smile on their faces.
A feeling of gratitude wells up. Outside of this retreat, how often in our lives do we have time to literally smell the roses? To simply sit and enjoy being, without having to go somewhere or do something? To meditate and pray? To join with others in song and worship? To go where the spirit leads?
Post by Rev. Lucy Bunch, Director of Embodied Practice
I had forgotten the spaciousness.
This is my fourth year as one of the leaders of SpiritRest and it continues to be a blessing. When I am getting ready each year, my body starts relaxing every time I think of being here. But each time I arrive it’s different. And this year it was hard.
We have completed our first full day here and I feel like I am finally settling in. When we first arrived on Sunday I was anxious - about the schedule, about the room set up, about the food, about my room. I kept forgetting what time I was supposed be leading something, and checking the calendar obsessively. Moving, churning, flailing, struggling to settle in.