Retreat Facilitator

Chicago signI have been doing a lot of traveling lately and so have not been present in my blog for a number of weeks. I’ve missed it: the storytelling. That’s a good thing.

The story I am eager to tell at this moment is this one: This past weekend I was in Chicago facilitating an Art Meditation retreat with a group of recovering alcoholics. Although I myself am a Christian, I always try to use language that does not create barriers for those participating in my events. I believe strongly in being inclusive and generous with the spirituality of others. I work hard to create an environment of safety for those present so they can give themselves fully to the process and have the most powerful experience possible. I don’t want to be the thing that gets in the way of amazing  connections with the Divine.

In preparation for these events, I always use intuition to guide my choices of materials, activities, timing and specific pieces for engaging discussion. I have to feel it. I expend a lot of energy on this process of choosing because if I’m not feeling it, I know it’s not going to be happening. I trust in God to lead me and God is amazing.

For this kind of retreat, I normally begin with a ritual of giving oneself to the community through some kind of liturgy: I’ve used drum circles, walking points, shape matching on a butterfly template, whatever feels right. There is a Jewish singing group called The Maccabeats, out of Yeshiva University, who are one of those male a cappella vocal bands that take famous pop songs and change the words – they tell Jewish history, illuminate Jewish culture, or enhance Jewish worship. They have a beautiful arrangement of the Sabbath prayer (“Lecha dodi”) set to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” I’ve used it as an introduction before, but for that event I had audio/visual technology to display the words to the song translated into English. For this event I knew I would have no video, so the participants would be hearing the song in Hebrew. I wasn’t too sure about how that would go over. …but the song just wouldn’t go away. I decided to trust my intuition and use it. Listening to God is what I do…so I did…even if it was a little bit odd.

I should probably say that in preparation for this retreat, there was some disagreement about the funding and where it came from and who it went to, and one of the women who would be at the retreat was part of this rather negative and unpleasant interchange (they ended up sending the grant check back to the funder and I had to ask the funder to redirect the check to another organization that could still execute the retreat at that location – it was awkward and uncomfortable but I really wanted to make this retreat happen; these women would benefit so much from some of these tools – I don’t want art to be the best kept secret in spirituality). I knew I needed to leave that bitterness outside the door and welcome everyone to what I know is a powerful prayer experience, whatever language one uses to talk to their Higher Power. I began the retreat, paraphrased the translation of the song, and led the butterfly exercise. After the first regular meditation, we took a break. At the break, the woman – this same woman – came up to me and said, “There’s something I need to tell you.” Uh oh.

She said that she was concerned about this retreat because the funder is all Jesus-oriented. She didn’t know what to expect from me because she didn’t know me at all and was worried about this whole experience. “Because,” she said, “I’m Jewish. Hebrew is my first language, not English. But when you played that song, the lecha dodi, I knew that I was in a safe place and could give myself to this process without fear.”

[Mic drop.]


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