“Our inner lives are lives for others.” – Henri Nouwen
Silence, space and prayer shawls – the gifts from a weekend retreat at Pelican House at Trinity Center. How fitting that pelicans are associated with going inward and practicing stillness. On this sacred beachfront property, even the house speaks its welcome and invitation to a time of deep reflection and renewal. Our gathering of women came from scattered directions in NC. We arrived at Pelican House, some friends, some strangers, and stepped onto ground that was oozing with holiness. It was there to touch and see and breathe.
We were a diverse group of women whose shared experience of mothering brought us together and formed us into a sacred community for 42 hours. We came for a weekend of breathing in and breathing out. We came to listen to our deepest selves and to one another. Together, we created a nourishing space where stories were shared, desires revealed, and fears and frustrations were confessed. Except for meals and our circle gatherings, we kept silence together in the house. I know that even the word silence can cause anxiety for some folks. But for us, it was a rich and lavish gift.
On our first evening together, we created an altar, complete with objects that we brought from home that symbolized where we were on the mothering journey. The candles we lit reminded us to be present in that space and nowhere else – a challenging invitation for mommas! We were there to nurture ourselves; to live into the wisdom of Nouwen’s words that our inner lives are lives for others.
Our retreat leader, Marjorie, invited us to choose a shawl from a colorful assortment that she spread out around the room. It was a delightful hunt. One by one we selected a shawl and lovingly wrapped it around our body. With that practice, we became a circle of women clothed in beauty as well as intention. The act and art of wrapping ourselves in a prayer shawl became an embodied way of praying for the entire weekend.
As women, we often grow up learning how to nurture others; giving generously of our abilities and energies. And even more often, we miss out on the important lessons about caring for ourselves – a vital part of being able to nourish others. As mothers, we carry armfuls of joy and grief, regrets and longings. Our journeys are different and yet so similar. There is no road map. We simply make the way by walking it, one step at a time.
One of the significant take-aways for me from the weekend, was the grounding sense of being companioned by a host of other women, both seen and unseen. On Saturday evening, we gathered for a candlelight labyrinth prayer walk. I can’t really find the words to describe it. Isn’t that how it is with something that is so holy and transforming? It’s an experience that nourishes us in ways that we didn’t even realize we yearned for. It seeps deep within us, finding those worn out and wounded spots and breathing life into them. On that sacred path that evening, I was keenly aware of the feminine energy in the room. An energy that was full of strength and gentleness. I felt carried by that energy; by those strong and gentle women into the presence of the Loving Mother. I was the last one on the path that night, walking and praying my way back out. The others had taken up a spot around the edges of the labyrinth, holding the space and loving me on my way. I felt their strength and tenderness, their mothering presence surrounding me.
Mayo Angelou said that “the quality of strength lined with tenderness is an unbeatable combination.” It is a source of healing and nourishment. It’s what we hope to breathe in and breathe out. For Marjorie, Ally, Laura, Beth, Sue, Roberta, Diane, Ellen, Johanna and Jane, I breathe a prayer of gratitude.