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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.

Erika relationshipwGodJulie 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.Erika relationshipwGod2

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:

February 5-7, 2016  at Star of the North Retreat Centre in St Albert, AB

June 24-26, 2016 at King's Fold Retreat Centre, near Cochrane, AB

October 28-30, 2016 at King's Fold Retreat Centre, near Cochrane AB

Fabric of Life

Psalm 139: 7-16
Ephesians 4:11-16
Eccles. 4:9-12
Colossians 3:12-17

I was talking to my massage therapist recently about fascia tissue, which is like a web or net of tissue that wraps around all the muscles organs and bones in the body. The fascia holds everything together, holds the shape with tensegrity and works to protect you. When you are injured or are cut, like in a surgery, you are immobile for awhile. Immobility causes the fascia to thicken and pull on the surrounding muscles, organs and bones. Apparently the fascia has a "memeory" and will hold on to the shape it formed in pain, which then puts everything off alignment. My massage therapist likened it to when you put the flat sheet on a bed and pull the corners tight, you can see the strech lines in the sheet. You may want that in a bed, but in an arm it causes tightness in the muscles and tendons. I have two spots from the surgeries I had in 2014, and it is a good chance they are the cause of continued stress in both of my arms. I can do a lot more now, but I have to still rest and stretch, and not overwork my arms – which can lead to back, neck and side pain and headaches. (I do have a tendency of forgetting to take breaks.)

This talk of a web of connective tissue led my thoughts back toward the phrases in the scripture listed above: “being knit together in my mother’s womb,” “intricately woven,” and “knit together in love.” These are phrases from the recent weekend retreat on art and faith that Sam and I led (Feb 5-7). Ephesians 4:15-16 says:

But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

As I think about what I have been learning about fascia, this scripture takes on some new significance. As a body of believers, we are affected by one another. When there is division, unforgiveness, pain and death, it affects the whole community. When we are working well together, it promotes growth and flexibility. The passage in Colossains becomes vital to the health of the body of believers, because we are truly knit together and it takes work to keep us knit together in love.

This year my growing edge has been in music. As I take time to listen, these melodies keep coming to me. I have been taking time to record these snippets of melody until they come togther. As I prepared for the retreat, and I contemplated the scripture above, one of the sets of snippets came together with the scripture and worked into the following song based on the verses we selected in Psalm 139:7-16.

The weekend retreat was about listening to the Word and responding with art (painting, poetry, music and this time we also had a contemplative weaving project.) Whether we have a large group or a small one, God works in our midst and it is beautiful. God takes each one another step on their journey. Sometimes it is breakthrough revelations, and sometimes just quiet awareness. My favorite part of the retreat is our closing service, where we share where God has met us, revealed himself to us. It is so beautiful.

Here are some pictures from the weekend:

maryannerikatulipstaliamegan response painting

Upcoming retreats:

June 24-26, 2016 King's Fold Retreat Centre...theme TBA

October 28-30, 2016 King's Fold Retreat Centre
…theme TBA

Giving Grace

Has it really been so long since I wrote to you last? I had some health and home issues that apparently sapped me of some of my creative energy – more than I realized. It is disappointing to find myself without inspiration and energy. Just enough to keep me going but not more. I was trying to get a video about the art and faith retreat done as well as finish a painting I had been working on since December.

I was talking with my spiritual last week, sharing with her where I was at and about the past month. I could feel the weight of everything. My spiritual director asked me to take a minute and just listen to what God said about it all. And I heard “grace;” to give myself grace. Life happens – it was stressful, even if it wasn’t huge.

We had our Enneagram class on Thursday night. One of the types we were covering that evening was the “3,” which is my type. I shared a lot, including where I go in stress. There is a high side and a low side to the type where I go under stress. The low side (in a nutshell) is that I can feel a failure and just give up, quit. The high side is to rest, take care of myself, and for me, it is also to spend time with God, resting.

Two mornings later, as I was thinking it all through again, it clicked for me. I needed to give myself grace. I had been taking care of myself and resting, leaning into God. I hadn’t given up. It took much longer than I wanted, to get the things done. The video is below. The painting I am working on is still a work in progress. I can give myself grace. God loves me for who I am not what I accomplish.

This reminds me of the story of Elijah I read this month. (1 Kings 17-19) Here is a prophet who walks closely with God. For seven years of drought, God is providing for his needs. With God, he confronts and battles the 400 false prophets of Baal in an altar competition with God providing the consuming fire on a drenched offering. But when he is threatened with death by Jezebel, he runs away in fear and discouragement to Mount Horeb to talk to God. And God gives him grace and rest. God informs him that he is not the only one left who follows God. God has more work for him but provides him with an assistant that he will eventually pass on the work to.

Abiding in God, in Jesus, isn’t always going to go as we wish it to. It can be hard. We can feel discouragement and fear. I do not always handle it well. I am thankful that I did this time. Are you like me? Do you need to give yourself grace and space?
How do you respond to the feelings? Where do you go under stress?

Do you need to take a rest, give yourself grace? Consider a retreat to refresh your soul...

Rest? What is that?

Whew! It has been a full fall with opportunities to teach, play on the worship team, assist in an Enneagram retreat and show my art. The solo art show, Birds and Flowers, at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital went up last Thursday. The watercolor painting of the Egret Landing is one of the 19 paintings on display at the show. I was also invited to be part of the the Art of the Unknown show last weekend, with a week’s notice. It has been good, but I am incredibly drained!

I went into the fall knowing that my weekends were mostly full. I had this idea that I could take a day of rest and paint during the week. Painting can help me process things, but that didn’t happen most weeks. The busier I got, the more I kept pushing that time of rest to the side. By denying myself those moments of peace, I lost touch with my inner self, I became disconnected from my feelings and everything became chores to accomplish, even painting. Then, some things started to fall to the wayside, I became less organized, I started to lose things, while the pile of tasks grew until it was like slogging through a mire to get to it all.

Does this ever happen to you? What do you distract yourself with?

The story doesn’t stop there. I lasted a lot longer because I slowed down the pace at which I worked, I took breaks and I kept up with some exercises, but really, it wasn’t enough. At noon on Saturday as I was sitting and painting at the Art from the Unknown show, I started getting the aura of a migraine. I had pushed myself too hard and my body was enforcing the rest I was not taking on my own. There is a reason God calls us to take a Sabbath rest. He knows we cannot keep going, but we tend to try anyway.

“‘There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a sabbath to the LORD.’” Leviticus 23:3

When I take that sabbath rest, I am saying, “Lord, I trust you with my work. It is not all about me and what I can accomplish. I trust that what gets done is enough for today.” When I don’t take it, I am essentially saying that it is up to me, and I am not trusting God with my life.

It isn’t just the Sunday or Sabbath day, it is a mindset or an attitude. Am I able to let things go at the end of each day? Can I trust God or am I relying on me?

It is just over a week until our next art and faith retreat: Art Vocabulary for the Soul coming up on Nov 9-12. Where we will be reflecting and responding through art, to scriptures like the Leviticus verse above. Our theme is ‘God Our Provider.’ God is constantly proving that to live in his word we still have much to learn.

We have an extra day on this retreat, due to the long weekend. With that extra day, I look forward to resting, as well as creating with the others who are coming.

We will be the very first group to use the brand-new Accommodation building at Covenant Bay Bible Camp. There are three more spots – Do you need a moment to rest and time to connect with God through scripture and art, too? We will have writers, painters, photographers and those who will be new to expressing themselves in art. We would love to have you join us, too.


Water in the Landscape

Painting the Nature of Water: waterfalls, tumbling water, waves crashing into rocks.

July 22-25, 10:30 am to 4:30 pm

Location: Paint spot: Artelier is located at 10045 81 Avenue NW, Edmonton (back alley entrance). The workshop space is one block south of The Paint Spot.count me in

$395 ($315 + $80 Supply fee)

Registration through the Paint Spot

Water is amazing as it moves, flows, reflects and tumbles down a mountain or hill. It is translucent and picks up color around it. It changes as it moves. I never get tired of painting water.

Learn how to paint the nature of water as it falls and tumbles and crashes over or into rocks. We will look at how it reflects or picks up colors around it. We will look at the flow and how it changes the way we paint it. Included will be filling in the landscape around the water.

In this Four-day workshop, each morning, we will work on studies with an aspect of painting the movement of water. In the afternoon, we will apply what we learned to a full landscape working on your own projects.

We will cover: 

  • The use of masking in the waterfall, and water movement
  •  Painting the rocks under the surface of the water
  •  Capture the luminescence of a wave that is crashing
  •  Painting the reflected lights and color on the water surface

I will be teaching with demos in the morning and coaching you on your projects in the afternoon. You are welcome to follow along with the demos or work from your own reference photos.

Techniques in watercolor we will touch on:              

  • Planning a painting
  • masking
  • layering
  • color mixing the shades in water
  • sponging
  • spritzing water
  • scraping
  • cling wrap
  • wet into wet
  • wet on dry
  • pushing and pulling

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The June Art Vocabulary for the Soul was amazing. I love teaching this retreat and seeing the creativity of the participants flow. The art mediums this time were watercolor, acrylic and oil, pastels and poetry.  We had people trying watercolor, oil and pastels for the first time.  

I took some pictures of the retreat and King's Fold Retreat Centre. The next Art vocabulary for the Soul retreat is July 4-6, 2025.

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