Storms, candles and blessings

 

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Some moments of beauty and clarity have passed at the farm as of late.

Recently, we hosted an event called Doing Good Well through CIVA — a gathering of Christian women artists and leaders (predominantly the ages of 20 – 40) for respite, encouragement and spiritual healing (Doing Good Well).

This year was both successful and created a poignant moment of sacred time in the lives of the women who came. The true spirit of the farm was in full glory.

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I wanted to share a recent excerpt of reflection from a young woman, Mary Campbell, who came to OQ for the retreat.

“Today I sit in sabbath, the first intentional sabbath I think I’ve ever taken. About a week ago, I went to Vermont for four days. I haven’t known how or what to write. I haven’t unpacked yet (literally and figuratively), and my suitcase still sits completely full in my living room. I don’t know how to transition, and throwing clothes in my hamper and putting books back where they belong feels like a letting go and moving on, instead of leaning into the shift that has occurred in my heart. How do you transition and ease your way back into normalcy, when normalcy as you once knew it is destructive to your ability to stay awake?
How do you express the sacred process of illumination and peace after a long season of restlessness? How do you articulate what it feels like to come home, within your own body, mind, and soul?

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I keep reminding myself to live into the shift, whatever that means. Mark Nepo says that, “It is such a struggle – has always been – for each of us to settle deep enough into the wait, into the weight till we discover that there’s nowhere to go.” There is nowhere to go, what a gift. Live into the shift, there is nowhere to go.
People have asked me throughout the week how my time on the farm was. I never know what to say. “Great! Wonderful! So refreshing. There were alpacas and sheep. It was glorious, exactly what I needed.” It feels like an automated voice message at this point.

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The summer before I started college, I visited Arizona for a weekend. As I sat on the runway to fly home, a monsoon swept in and delayed my departure for a day. That night, a dear friend and I watched lightning strike the high desert mountains. I had never seen such a storm before.
The summer before my junior year of college, I studied abroad in France for a month. One night, in a small seaside town about two hours northwest of Paris, my classmates and I peered through small windows in the attic of the home we were staying in. It was 2 am, and with red wine in hand, we watched the sky light up. Eventually we figured out how to open the windows, and we sat in silence as lightning stuck the distance and rain fell gently against our faces. I was reminded of Arizona, and felt the importance of lighting as a marker of time and change.

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The summer after I graduated from college, I went on a retreat to Vermont with no idea what to expect. After a few days of wrestling with my mind, my heart cracked open, and the skies followed suit. I tried for twenty minutes that night to capture a long exposure, but every time I set up my camera, lightning would appear in a different section of the sky. And so I just sat, and laughed, and thought about the passing of time and these three storms that have sang to me. They held me.

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I have been angry at God (Yahweh, the great I AM, Creator, Mother, Holy One). I have felt deceived and led astray. Moments where I felt so led by the Divine ended in heartache. Circumstances that felt touched by Grace led to isolation. I have been angry, and I hadn’t allowed that anger and disbelief to exist. I found myself numb in worship. I can’t call God “He” or “Him” or “Lord.” I need a God who relates to my femininity, my empathy, a God who is Mother, a God who dances. I have been angry at the church and the patriarchal language and implications of God that have been taught to me for twenty years. I don’t understand that God. That God isn’t the God of the universe that runs in my veins and in the rustling of leaves or in the deep blue of dusk. The first few days of the retreat, I had the opportunity to write, and write, and write about my frustration and confusion. I had space, away from any kind of familiar, to sit in the wreck that had been waiting for me, when I had real time to breathe, when I was ready. The 95% humidity was a constant reminder that I was not home, and it was a strange relief.

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Saturday was a crescendo. What started with unease and weariness ended in dancing in the rain. I sat with a friend and expressed my anger, my fear, my hesitation, and felt rivers break through dams in my heart. I cried, and laughed, and felt life begin to return. There’s not much more you can ask for. To be awake and alive.

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The last night we had a candlelit vespers service. A woman and her two daughters sang beautiful hymns to us in perfect harmony, and we sat together in reverence. In the next room, the director of the farm (an incredible iconographer), set up a candle light altar with an icon of Mary holding Jesus between two bouquets. I was moved to tears upon seeing it; the warmth of the room enveloped me and I didn’t know what to do except kneel and sit in silence, joy.
How do I transition? How do I continue to pursue what is sacred and alive and full of spirit? How do I use my art to express this, to worship? How do I continue to reach?

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Anne Lamott has a book called “Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.” Maybe that’s where to start. Help. Thanks. Wow.

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Doing Good Well is a biennial retreat for Christian women artists ages 20-40. I was fortunate enough to attend this year. Taking photos of the retreat was a challenge in itself. It was only after the crack that I really knew what to do, and looking at my photos before and after, I can see the shift.. So here are a few images of my time. They can’t tell the weight of what it was, but at least they are a small glimpse. There is nowhere to go. There is hope.”

Thanks be to God.  May we continue to provide a respite for the weary, embodying a creative sanctuary in the full sense of what that can mean for those seeking wholeness, expressing and wrestling with their faith and the calling to be artists.  May we continue to be a slow, steady place of gift, of Sabbath, of balm to the lives that we touch …

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