Art, Vocabulary for the Soul Retreat
June 19-21, 2015
By Erika Elektra Ewen
(Reprinted from the Trinity Team newsletter of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Edmonton)
In spring 2015, I picked up a brochure at Trinity Church entitled “Art Vocabulary for the Soul Retreat” which changed my life. Its contents stimulated me as the approach described was new and exciting. My attendance at the Retreat gave me a much needed rest from everyday life, taught me that forms of art, such as watercolour painting, when combined with scripture readings can open the emotional part of your brain to express your spirituality in a different and creative way and, thereby, help you come closer to God. I was also inspired to take watercolour painting courses in the fall so I have a new hobby to pursue and a different way to express my spirituality.
I carpooled down with two ladies. The drive went well except for the thunderstorm and massive hailstorm we encountered that resulted in us pulling over and stopping. While waiting for the storm to ease up, I glanced out the window, saw a thick straight lightning bolt just across the highway and heard a very loud clap of thunder right next to me. Naturally this scared me and made a large impression on me. The remainder of the drive was uneventful.
The Retreat was held at King’s Fold which is close to Cochrane, overlooks Ghost River and has spectacular views of the mountains in the distance. King’s Fold fits in with the natural environment and was built to be a place of discernment, renewal, rest, learning and creating. It includes many sacred places such as a chapel that is open all the time, a labyrinth, and several prayer walks. King’s Fold also offers “animal therapy” by having a dog and two cats, one which closely resembles one of my cats. Friendly staff cooks excellent meals on site and interact with the guests.
Julie and Sam Drew ran the Retreat. Julie is a successful Edmonton watercolour painter and her husband, Sam, is a former pastor and excellent poetry writer. Julie and Sam used various techniques throughout the weekend to help us disengage from our usual analytical thinking approach to life to go deeper to access our emotions to better understand our spirituality and relationship with God and express these through art (painting, writing, etc.). The scripture readings were passages that focused on different names for God.
Our first exercise on Friday evening was very insightful to me. Julie discussed the objective of the Retreat and showed slides of some of her watercolour paintings. Sam, read some of his poetry, and showed some of his art to illustrate that one does not have to be an expert to express oneself through art. Our first assignment was to make a drawing of our drive down and our expectations of the weekend. I made a quite abstract chalk drawing with everything drawn horizontally. I started with the lightning strike surrounded by thick black lines, showed the mountains from a distance and ended with happy bright colours to illustrate my feelings about attending the Retreat. (see paintings above) Our drawings were then given to another person who had to draw a second drawing showing how she/he interpreted the drawing. I was very surprised at how and why my drawing was interpreted in a certain way. The person drew a large erupting volcano and lightly drew some small mountains. From then on, I thought of myself as a volcano. We were also asked to make a drawing of our interpretation of our relationship with God. I continued with the analogy of seeing myself as a volcano and used chalk to draw a thick black line between a volcano and a multi-coloured circle that represented God. I explained to the group that my drawing represented that I felt cut off from God. (painting on the left)
On Saturday morning, Sam read John 10: 11 - 18 using the Lectio Divina approach. This consists of reading the passage three times. After the first reading, listeners are asked to describe one word that made an impression on them. After the second reading, listeners are asked to discuss a phrase to illustrate how it connects with their lives. After the third reading, listeners are asked how the passage influenced or defined their relationship with God. The objective is to go beyond analysis and instead rely on emotion when creating a work of art. I heard the word “shepherd” many times and understood that one does not need to be afraid. The word “shepherd” strongly reminded me of my favourite Psalm, Psalm 23, and the phrases regarding pastures and still waters. I made a chalk drawing depicting my revised relationship with God based on my “analytical/creative” leap from John 10: 11 – 18 to Psalm 23 to illustrate how the volcano flowed in a curve through a field and still waters towards a shepherd’s crook and a horizontal band of bright stripes of different colours representing God. Sam then read Isaiah 40:21-21 using the Lectio Divina approach. My main impressions regarding this reading were that “He sits above the circle of the earth” and “The weak who believe in God will become strong.”
Saturday after a delicious lunch, I finalized my chalk drawing of my revised relationship with God. I showed it to Julie and said I would like to try to paint it as a watercolour painting but was afraid to try since I did not know how to approach this task. Julie gave me instructions throughout the afternoon and I was able to complete a large portion of my watercolour painting despite being tired. During the afternoon, we were blessed with seeing a double rainbow. I spent some time wandering around the grounds before suppertime. After supper, I finished my watercolour painting, (painting on the right) spent some time with the cat, Tommy, who reminded me of my cat and relaxed and read in bed.
The final day of the Retreat was auspicious as it was held on the longest day of the year. In the morning, Isiah 43: 1-3 was read using the Lectio Divina approach. The main messages I received from the reading was that “I [God] have redeemed you,” I am not alone as God will keep me safe and I need to be willing to let go and let God be in control. These messages fit nicely with my first drawing of my relationship with God depicting that I have created a barrier that holds me back from having a full relationship with God.
The Retreat’s final exercise after another exceptional lunch was to meet in the chapel, play music while singing and explain some of our art. Other people also commented on our art. One person told me that a volcano can also be positive as it gets rid of dead and useless nature and revitalizes the soil by bringing fresh nutrients.
The Retreat was a positive and enlightening experience for me. I highly recommend that we have Julie and Sam Drew give a mini workshop that recreates some aspects of the Retreat so others can have the same experiences I had. This would be a unique way for us to tap our spirituality and better understand and strengthen our relationship with God.
Join us for the 2016 Art: Vocabulary of the Soul Retreats:
October 28-30, 2016 at King's Fold Retreat Centre, near Cochrane AB