Bidden or not bidden, God is present

Women's Spring Retreat 2024 attendees with Archbishop Linda Nicholls (centre). Photo courtesy of Trish Vollman Stock.
 on June 4, 2024

The Women’s Spring Retreat, held at the picturesque Camp Pringle, Shawnigan Lake on 19-21 April, had thirty-two attendees. The retreat facilitator was Archbishop Linda Nicholls, and the spiritual leader was Lynn Mills, incumbent at St Mary’s, Metchosin. Archbishop Linda’s warm, understanding and easy-going nature eased us gently through the theme of “God’s Story in Us.”

The retreat attendees all agreed that having conversations with like-minded Christian women, being away from the busy demands of home; and being able to pray, break bread and learn really helped shape their prayer lives.

We began the retreat with the bold statement that God is here whether we like it or not This sentence is of great comfort, but it can also make us uncomfortable. Psalm 139 makes this noticeably clear to us:


O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.

Bidden or not bidden, God is with us. For some this may feel uncomfortable or as though we are being scrutinized. Archbishop Linda invited us to imagine inviting Jesus into our homes: which rooms would we not allow Jesus to enter? Are there areas of our own lives we try to hide from Jesus? It was a gentle reminder that we cannot keep him out. He knows us and loves us, and we are not in charge, God is.

Archbishop Linda quoted New York Times bestselling author and Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber: “So recently I’ve been wondering: if, when Jesus says deny yourself and follow me, that maybe it’s not about insuring [sic] his followers are doormats. Maybe he’s inviting us to deny the part of us that wants to see itself as separate from God and others.”

Archbishop Linda went on to say that the reality is that God’s presence is working in us all the time. Following means he is leading the way. It is nothing to be fearful of but means allowing the spirit to be our guide. When we are baptised and marked with the cross, we are God’s forever — not just if we get it right or are perfect. Marked but not chained: we are invited into Christ. It is not a coercive love, and always there is room for you even if you wander off. It is of great comfort that we are God’s forever.

Responding to God in us

How will we respond to God’s presence throughout our lives? We respond differently in the dark times and the happy times. Surely we carry joy in our hearts, even in life’s difficult moments? Archbishop Linda reminded us that there is a difference between joy and happiness: joy is always present even amid pains and sorrows. There is nothing the world can do to us that can separate us from God’s love. God’s doorways into faith are so unique for every person. It is a lifelong journey to listen to the voice of God.

In breakout groups participants responded to the question “How do we hear God?” Answers included: the songs of birds, in music, in water and in the snow-capped mounts and streams. There are many diverse ways that God speaks to us. The breakout groups were a great way of building community within the retreat.

The Primate asked if we would go where God called us. Sometimes the answer is not obvious: it is not a clear “yes” or “no”, but rather, God is with us and wants us to discern more.

In a mirror dimly

Archbishop Linda told us about the Mirror of Erised in the Harry Potter books. The mirror shows the orphaned Harry with his parents. Around the edge of the mirror is the words “I show not your face but your heart’s desire.” Harry sees his deceased parents because that is what he most desires. But Dumbledore warns Harry that many have wasted away while staring into the mirror. We miss while looking in the mirror what we should see. Archbishop Linda asked what clouds the mirror for us? What destroys what is good?

We talked about sin and what it is to turn away from God. We talked about all the different ways we believe that if we do more we will be rewarded by God’s love. The truth is that no matter what we do, it is not a transactional love. We are loved no matter what. This does not mean that we are not accountable for our own actions.

We were asked to reflect on what helps us see ourselves warts and all, and how God’s love has lifted us up in times of despair. We are rooted deeply in the love of God when we are open to seeing ourselves and what God wants to show us.

God is our gift and deepest joy

There are patterns in how we deal with conflict, each other and God. We may not be ready to grow into who God truly wants us to be. “Until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing,” said Archbishop Linda. When we finally reach this place there is great joy. In these moments we are most vulnerable to God, and he holds us in love.

We reflected on whether we have a resistance pattern and how we can embrace it as a gift. One of the attendees suggested that we are products of our upbringing and the legacies of our ancestors. We can grow into who God truly wants us to be, and sift out the good and bad of our upbringing and learn from it.

Sometimes we need the wisdom of our community, and, most importantly, God is with us in our community. This is paramount. We struggle with community daily, in our work lives, our parishes and our families. We need to remind ourselves that God is at work in the messiness of it all, and that we all must listen to the Holy Spirit and remember that God is always there.

  • Trish Vollmann Stock

    Trish serves as a deacon in Duncan and the Cowichan Valley. She loves to write poetry and be outdoors walking. She can be seen on Sundays at St John the Baptist Anglican Church, where she loves to share stories, laughter and caring with the parish.

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