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