Kelli has written a great post about how to have a successful writing retreat, or residency, the term that she posits might be more useful. But what if writing is just one of the creative activities we like to do? I've gone on all sorts of retreats, but my absolute favorite is the Create in Me retreat that I go on each year. It's at a church camp, Lutheridge, in the mountains near Asheville. It approaches the issue of creativity from all the angles that are important to me.
What does a day at a creativity retreat look like? Let me stress that although there's a schedule, participants are free to do their own thing.
We often begin with yoga, tai chi, a walk, or some other kind of gentle movement for twenty or thirty minutes. Then there's a hearty breakfast. I could eat breakfast for every meal.
We have a Bible study, and the focus rotates each year. One year we're looking at God as creator, the next, Jesus as creator, the next, Holy Spirit as creator. We also consider other elements: muse, miracle worker, co-creator. We approach our Bible study from a mainline Protestant angle, so if you're not a person who takes the Bible literally, you'll feel at home. And even if you're a person who looks at the Bible as a historical document, you'll probably find some like-minded folks.
Then we have a choice of workshops, where we learn/experience an art form that might take more guidance. This year, our workshops included batik, terrarium creating, mosaics, stained glass, drop spindle spinning, tatting, and several others.
After workshop time, it's time for lunch. And then we spend the afternoon at drop-in stations at the large central building. Each year, our choices are different, depending on who's coming and what they might want to present. This year, we had stations with fabric art, English paper piecing, magazine mosaics (which morphed into collaging), bamboo flutes, kaleidoscope making, and a few other things.
Each year, we do a community art project. This year, we created a cross filled with broken objects, which I created a photo essay about on my theology blog. I really enjoyed smashing crockery and dropping the pieces into a plexiglass cross.
We also do some worship creating. We have a skeleton of a service, and we break into teams: word, music, movement, image. We have several hours to create those parts of the service. It's always amazing to me how the pieces come together into an amazing service that we have at a nearby Lutheran church. On Friday night after dinner, we have a worship service (on Saturday, a talent show).
We do this worship creating to show how we might do something similar at home. I recently finished Mark Pierson's The Art of Curating Worship. He would likely approve of our worship. Growing up, I always found the worship at camp or on retreats to be so much more meaningful than the worship at my home churches. I always wondered why worship couldn't always be the way it was at camp, and I was assured that I wouldn't like it, if I had it every week. I beg to differ, as does Pierson.
Worship should be exactly the way it is at camp, week after week. Since this is my creativity blog, not my theology blog, I'll leave the theology aside, and point out that one reason worship likely isn't the way that it is at camp is because it takes considerably more time. It's easy to show up week after week to trudge through the same old liturgy, with hymn selection the only decisions to be made. It takes a lot more time to think about worship, about the message, about the themes, about all the ways we could reinforce those themes.
It also takes a lot of creativity, and not everyone's brains work in that direction. But I bet most congregations have those folks in the pews. What would worship look like if poets designed the worship? What would worship look like if we welcomed visual artists?
I've been on writing retreats, most regularly at Mepkin Abbey, and the Create in Me retreat at Lutheridge is similar, and yet so different. I like that both of these retreats speak to a spiritual side that's often missing at non-religious retreats. I like the chance to be by myself and to also interact with others (easier at Lutheridge than at Mepkin). I like that the Lutheridge group is large, yet I often leave feeling like I haven't had a chance to connect.
I've been going to the Create in Me retreat since 2003. I went to a women's retreat that year and was frustrated at how the small group discussion turned to housework and kids--didn't anyone have a creative life? At the closing service, the camp leader mentioned the Create in Me retreat. At first I felt sad: "That's the retreat I should have attended!" And then, happiness! I realized that it hadn't happened yet. I could still go.
I decided to be big and brave, and I went all by myself. I met all sorts of great artists, and I've gone back ever since. So now, the retreat also includes the joy of reunion.
I like being with a variety of artists, many of us trying a variety of art/craft forms. We emphasize process, not the end product, so it's easy to be a beginner, to experiment, to play. I've always liked a variety of creative activities, and it's great to be with people who encourage me to do it all, who refuse to choose.
It's also great to try things without investing in them. For years, I wanted a pottery wheel and a kiln at my house. Then one year, I actually sat down and worked with the wheel. I decided the learning curve would be much too steep, and I have let that dream go. Likewise with weaving. I romanticized the idea of having a loom. Once I did it, I found it both boring and annoying. This retreat has saved me all sorts of time, energy, and money.
For the past two years, I've been the retreat coordinator, so I spend the year planning the retreat. Last year, we experimented with a retreat to plan the retreat; before, the planners met periodically for lunch and planning.. I know that a retreat-planning retreat might sound like a joyless event, but it was great to have all those brains together for a week-end. Our retreat this year was one of the best ever, and I think it's because we had an intense week-end of planning and visioning.
I am not opposed to secular retreats. I'd be happy to experience a residency at Bread Loaf or Sewanee. I've gone to plenty of academic conferences that make me happy. But I'm happy and inspired by the increasing number of conferences and retreats that look at the intersections of faith, art, spirituality, and creativity. For too many years (centuries, really), artists have had to make uncomfortable choices if they wanted to remain within religious traditions. Some of us still do. I'm lucky to be a Lutheran, a tradition that's almost always been comfortable with intellectual approaches and almost always been cool with artistic approaches to faith (particularly if it involves music).
And now for the hard part, the return from the literal and metaphorical mountain, the attempt to hang onto retreat mind even as daily life takes over. It's easy to feel spiritual at a mountain top church camp. It's easy to remember God there. It's easy to be creative at a retreat where all the supplies are spread out enticingly and there's enough space to leave them out. It's easy to be creative when we're all being creative together. I'm lucky to be working in an environment that honors our creative impulses, yet there are still tasks that must be done that aren't exactly mountain-top experiences (e-mail management, document shredding, scheduling, planning, emergency/crisis/problem solving). How to approach those tasks with my retreat self, not my frazzled self--now there's the life's task!
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