Light and Loveliness

Reflections of Emily Sue Allen

Creativity / Life & Faith

Abide: A Writing Retreat

About a month ago, I attended my first-ever writer’s retreat. It was a humble-in-the-best-way, not-your-average conference for writers of faith. I’m not sure exactly how I became convinced I should go, because despite my ten years of privately writing out my heartaches and thoughts in various spaces, I hesitate to call myself a writer. I guess this is a common thing among writers. Somewhere, there is some invisible list of qualifications that make some writers ‘real’ writers, and other ones are…something else. I concede that by the simple fact that I put words down, I technically am a writer, but I’m certainly not an author or a writer with serious professional ambitions, which is why I hesitate to identify as one. More than anything, I see myself as a communicator, and written words just happen to be the easiest and most accessible way to communicate with others in this season of life.

On the way up to the retreat’s remote location near Leavenworth, Washington, the mountainsides were ablaze with autumn color. I was curious what I would discover about myself, or about writing, over the weekend, being in a space without children (a rare opportunity for me) and without any real idea of what to expect. I guess most events of this nature focus on how to build a platform, how to get a book published, or any number of other outward-facing topics for all different types of writers. This retreat was different. For starters, it was a very intimate setting with about 10 other women, and any part of the ‘business’ of writing was not on the agenda. It was a space to listen and to explore the creative side of writing from a context of faith and the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

I arrived there with a stupidly oversized suitcase…not because I took all that many things with me, but because I am pregnant and I need all my special pillows. Pregnant mamas everywhere can nod their heads now. I kept laughing to myself about the size of the thing, and made jokes about my luggage to anyone who happened to notice that it was associated with me, feeling the need to confess that it was all pillows and not a bunch of unnecessary stuff. I had all of 2 outfits, a few simple toiletries, my journal, and the pillows, without which I could not be guaranteed a comfortable night’s sleep. Comfort matters, friends.

We gathered first for dinner, sharing names and backstories. I am always a little amused when people look at my round belly and ask me if this is my first baby. It’s a rare person who doesn’t bug their eyes out when I tell them this is number six. I know, its totally weird. But it’s also awesome, I say. The truth is, for all its challenges, I’m so grateful for the story God is writing in my life, even though it is so different than what I expected or might have written myself, and even though I find it more difficult all the time to wrestle with the isolation that comes with mothering a big family.

We kicked off the evening session with worship, and sang together for a long stretch of time. They were trusty, old songs I loved years ago and was glad to revive in my heart. The sound of our voices together was beautiful, and a perfect way to set the tone of the whole weekend. We followed worship with meditating on a particular scripture for a long stretch of time, really letting it wash over and sink deep. I was reminded of the beauty of drinking deep from the Word, not just drinking much, which is my usual approach in my season of life.

How well do we really listen? To listen well, we have to be still, become quiet, be comfortable with silence and waiting. We have to find a way to open the ears and the heart to tune in to something that is on a different wavelength than the noise that is typically pawing at us from every direction. That is really what this weekend was about.

The morning session was a look into writing as a spiritual practice. Our speaker offered us some perspective about the value of listening to God in quietness and recording the things He puts in our hearts during that time. I am already a fairly reflective/contemplative person, so I wasn’t quite expecting to be so profoundly touched by the assignment to go sit in nature for half an hour and record what comes to mind. I plan to share more about those specific revelations in a subsequent post…but they are far too deep and poignant to gloss over here. Suffice it to say, I ended up with pages and pages of thoughts from a short 30-minute sitting, and recognized that I need to find a way to continue this kind of practice on a semi-regular basis.

The other sessions that day were about playing with words. Another of our speakers introduced us to a few different forms of poetry, and invited us to create our own poems based on those forms. If I don’t consider myself a writer, I certainly do not consider myself a poet, except maybe one of the most accidental/free-form kind. Still, I enjoyed these exercises immensely, and feel like they have given me new inspiration going forward. My compositions can be found at the following link:

Poems from Abide

I really enjoyed meeting the other writers who attended the retreat. We were only together for two nights, but it was a truly wonderful experience holding space and creating together. There was clearly an abundance of talent and heart in attendance, and I look forward to continuing the relationships that were ignited there.

In all, I have to say the retreat was not especially remarkable, but it was incredibly powerful for me personally. There were no fancy lights, or famous writers, or 10-steps-to-success tools. It was simple, and understated, and lovely in every way. It was an intentional space held open to listen, take notice of things God wanted to bring to my attention, meet other thoughtful and creative women, play with words, and specifically dive in to writing as a spiritual practice, which I will continue to do with intention.

If you’re curious to read more about the retreat, I offer the following links:

From the two lovely women who put the retreat on:
Jody Collins –
(Prior to the retreat) Rethinking Writers Conferences
Retreat Recap: Yes He Abides

Kimberlee Conway Ireton –
(Prior to the retreat) Abide: A Little Announcement and Invitation 

From a few of the attendees who shared their reflections:
Nancy Ruegg –
The Wisdom of the Woods

Alyssa Santos –
Power Made Perfect

 

2 Comments Abide: A Writing Retreat

  1. Pingback: Poems from Abide Retreat @ Light and Loveliness

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