I was flattered to be asked to lead a weekend writing retreat last month at Shrine Mont, a very special Episcopal Church conference center at Orkney Springs, Virginia, in the mountains between Virginia and West Virginia. The invitation came several months before the actual retreat, so I said yes enthusiastically, welcoming the opportunity to spread my wings and explore new ways to encourage others and help them strengthen their connection with God. I chose the title Stepping Stones To God—the title of my upcoming devotional—and I used the lens of three of life's essential connections (with self, with others, and with nature) to explore ways to strengthen the fourth essential connection: with God.
The gremlins of fear
The gremlins started their barrage about six weeks before the event. You know the ones I mean…those voices that say,
“Who are you to think you can lead a retreat?”
“What if the participants are all more experienced writers than you are?”
“You have no theology credentials and no writing credentials. What were you thinking?”
The sweet voice of calm
“But remember,” whispered Spirit, “I will be with you. You have spent a lifetime trying to know God and understand His ways. No one has all the answers. All you have to do is care and listen and share your experiences. Besides, you've been writing in one way or another for decades. You ARE a writer. And you CAN help others who genuinely want to strengthen their connection with God through their writing.”
I dove into my preparations, reading everything I could get my hands on about spiritual writing, spiritual journaling, prayer journaling, and more. I surveyed my most spiritually literate friends and compiled a list of books and resources to demonstrate how others have written to God, about God, or for God. I called my writing professor friend—and published author—Pamela Wight, who gave me so many tips and a fabulous list of fun writing exercises to use. My friend Kim Hafner shared her experience leading a writing retreat for youth. My writing pal Karen Sanderson encouraged me throughout and sent me a text message as the weekend started.
Hand-picked by God
Three brave souls attended this retreat, and I have absolutely no doubt they were hand-picked by God to create the most wonderful experience for all of us. Each woman was a devout Christian, active in various ministries of her own church, and wanting to explore other ways to know and serve her God. I was humbled and touched by their faith, devotion, and writing skills. It was clear that my only role was to support, encourage, and empower them in their journey as seekers and wayfinders. God did the rest.
Our retreat prayer
Here's the prayer I wrote for the occasion:
Heavenly Father, we are here this weekend to cultivate a gift from you—our ability to write, and through our writing to draw closer to you and serve you. Teach and inspire us, we pray, to use this gift as a conduit for your light and love in a world that needs both so desperately.
May we always be:
- open to hearing Spirit’s still small voice
- deaf to our inner critic
- fearless in proclaiming your messages
- faithful in seeking you in our life and work
You have promised that when two or three are gathered in your name, you will be in their midst. We thank you and welcome your presence among us this weekend. Give us confidence in your guidance of our writing that we may use it in ever greater service to you. Amen
The joy of sharing
During our three 2-1/2 hour sessions, we laughed, we cried, and we wrote, wrote wrote—sharing what we had written with each other and marveling at the depths of emotion and creativity we plumbed with the simple exercises. We did, indeed—at least for awhile—banish our inner critics and expanded our vision for serving God through our writing and other God-given gifts:
- One participant wants to pursue writing devotions and inspirational Christian pieces when she retires soon.
- One wants to develop reading material for her adult male literacy students who need interesting content written on their reading level.
- One wants to explore her writing of prose and poetry and share it with her elderly patients.
- I want to encourage others and empower them to strengthen those connections essential to their happiness and success.
On the last day, we walked the Shrine Mont labyrinth, falling into the ancient rhythms of its path and reflecting on the retreat activities and significance. It was a beautiful weekend in a serene, peaceful place that has lured visitors and faithful pilgrims for decades.
In acknowledging our yearning for God and asking for ways to know and serve Him, we all—myself included—were led together to experience the inspiration of Spirit through the uplifting that comes with mutual encouragement and the shattering of small thinking and self-doubt.
Thanks be to God!