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.