After a two-year separation, the Women’s Retreat was back in person under the direction of Clara Plamondon, archdeacon for Cowichan Mid-Vancouver Island region and incumbent at St Paul, Nanaimo. The theme was “We are the clay.” We began by offering our feelings before God and taking some quiet time to nurture ourselves after being away from the community we hold so dear.
After greeting friends old and new — many of the friendships go back decades, to the early days of the retreat — we sat firmly with our feet on the floor, renewing our deep connection to the earth — the very earth from which we are raised. We are God’s earthly vessels from the clay of these islands and inlets.
The opening of the retreat was a guided meditation based on Jeremiah 18. We were invited to go to the potter’s house using all our senses, allowing ourselves to awaken to things we had not noticed before. “Be still and know what God is rising in you,” said Clara.
After the guided meditation, there were various activities to engage in, including knitting, journaling, walking, colouring, reflecting and meditating, and each participant was able to enter into their own holy, sacred experience.
After 45 minutes we were called back to the circle and given a small tub of playdough and asked the question, “What do you think of when you think of clay?” Some words shared were durable, malleable, creative and imaginative.
Clay needs preparation before it can be worked, and that work takes time. Many felt that they were wobbly, knocked down, broken, marred and disturbed, much like the clay in the potter’s house — but the story reminds us that we can try again. The pandemic in many ways was a challenge to start over. Clara shared the story of the piece of marble that was drilled and ruined until Michelangelo saw the stone and shaped it into the statue of David. The story reminds us that nothing is a lost cause.
The potter is still collaborating with us, picking up pieces and reworking the clay. Some pieces cannot go back together and we must find ways to accept this and respond to God’s reshaping, refashioning and reforming. We are all God’s earthly vessels.
Coming together in this one-day retreat was especially important as we are all broken pieces and together forming something new — a beautiful mosaic. Often, through community, we are made whole. The pandemic taught us what divisions there are in society and that we have work to do.
One thing we do know is that we are held in the palm of God’s hand and that nothing can separate us from the love of God. God’s hands are holding us, sustaining us, and though life can sometimes seem overwhelming, it is ok to be afraid and confused. It is often in these moments that we find our true purpose and our true authentic self. We should allow ourselves to open. God invites us to learn, to weep or dance. Every day we stand in vulnerability and God fills our vessel, showing us a way forward. We were asked, “What is our role in holding what is before us?” Prayer, trust and action. Relationship building in our communities. Responding to our faith.
In the closing Eucharist, we read from Mark 14. We recalled the story of the woman who poured perfume over Jesus from the broken alabaster jar, saturating Jesus’ head and beard, loving him, anointing him and celebrating — we too are the rare, beautiful perfume ready to be poured out. We are just like the woman in Mark’s gospel: all she had to offer was the gift of herself, a gesture of cracking herself open and pouring herself out with all that she had fashioned and shaped, despite the pushback and scorn she received. Our actions must speak our witness.
As we head back to our daily lives, we carry in our vessels that sweet perfume ready to pour out, that we might participate in God’s unfolding good work.
The fall Women’s Retreat will take place Oct. 14–16 at St John the Baptist, Duncan. Accommodation for those needing it will be at Best Western Cowichan Valley Inn. The theme of the retreat is “Finding Hope in Liminal Times.” Registration opens Sept. 1. For more information, visit the diocesan website.