I am heading off for a few days of retreat this week. The idea began with an art class I wanted to take down in Portland over the weekend, knowing it meant I could also have a chance to see an old and dear friend from my doctoral program who teaches down there now. Then I realized after teaching my class Tuesday morning, there were only a couple of appointments I was able to reschedule to give myself a little window of retreat mid-quarter. I am longing to be out in the autumn splendor and have never been to the Columbia River Gorge, so that is where I will be for three days or so before heading on to my art-making weekend.
Thursday marks the three-year anniversary of my mother's death and just two months since Duke died so suddenly. My journey since losing my mother has been intense and heartbreaking, blessed and amazing. She was this beautiful and bold spirit in my life and part of my letting go process has been moving more fully into her legacy for me. She was someone who supported me so deeply in all of my dreams. I still hear her voice cheering me forward as I continue to take steps toward the life I long for and the one Spirit is calling me toward.
At the Gathering last Friday, as I did the initial walk I collected some signs of autumn: brilliant leaves, pine cones, orange berries. I love fall because it immerses me in the beauty of death. In being fully present to loss I cherish the gift of life in ways I never could have before holding death in my arms. The journey of grief for me is about holding these both in their fullness. There is a deep sigh in my heart, an aching sadness that wells up in quiet moments.
When I returned from the "walkabout" I was drawn to the tray of beautiful beads Crystal had on the table as an offering for sacred expression. I collected beads that spoke to me of autumn and carefully thread them onto the wire not knowing where they were taking me. As I came to the end I recognized an image that has been echoing in me these last few weeks, especially when I am deep in the forest. It is the image of a slender thread that connects me to my mother, to Duke, to the vast communion of saints who continue to offer wisdom and guidance from the Great Beyond. Creating this string of beads for me is an act of faith in that connection and a witness to the beauty shimmering through the veil of this world. I strung the colors two-by-two to remember that I am never completely alone.
I am bringing this beaded thread with me on retreat and my camera and journal. I will spend hours being present to the explosion of beauty in the world this autumn. I will listen carefully for the voices of wisdom that connect me to something so much greater than myself. I will honor the memories of the great loves I have lost with ritual and song and creating an altar from what I find in the forest.
I will check in on email a bit, but am not planning to blog the rest of this week. I want to give time and space to listen for what is stirring in me. Please feel free to leave comments or email me, and read some of the archives. I will be thinking of you dear readers with fondness, praying for your peace, and I hope you will pray for me. I promise to bring back stories and images in a humble offering.
I make retreats a regular practice of my life. I am so hungry for those times of deep solitude and silence. It has been on retreat that I have fully allowed myself to live by my own rhythms, listening for what is emerging, what needs to happen next. There is such remarkable freedom in allowing your spirit and body to lead you. This experience has deeply affected how I shape my life at home and am blessed to be able to live into my own rhythm most days.
In the meantime, I suggest you go check out Bette's sites. Bette has been a regular reader and commenter on this blog and through virtual world friendship I have discovered this amazing poet and artist. Go see her work at her Flickr page and her LiveJournal Blog. She has these wonderful wood block prints combined with her stunning Haiku poetry. Looking at her work has inspired me to try my hand at making my own art stamps through soft carving.
slowly fills my Garden,
Petal by Petal . . .
the warm Touch of the Sun
encourages Buds to Unfold.
-Bette Norcross Wappner (block print and poem)
I especially love this new series she is beginning, with the above image of Saint Tulip. It touched something in me as I have lately been thinking a lot about what the communion of saints means for me and how broad I can allow it to be. How do we celebrate the ways animals and flowers teach us of their sacredness and the holiness of God? I plan to do so these next few days.
I will go among trees and give thanks for Saint Maple and Cedar, Saint Aspen and Pine. And Saint Suzanne (my mother) and Saint Duke.
So when is your next time for retreat planned? Who are the holy ones of your life who have gone ahead of you?
-Christine Valters Paintner