An essay by Betsy George
Are you curious about the Women’s Retreat?
We, women from ages 20-80+, gather every January at the Pilgrim Firs Retreat Center. I remember my first Women’s Retreat back in 2003. My son was 3 and I was newly pregnant with my second child. I had wondered what it would be like to get away with just women in a beautiful setting: to not be a mom for a few days or a wife, or a professional, but just me.
Over the years, I have come to treasure my time away with the women of this church.
I have attended almost every year since that first one and begin with the Silent Retreat portion. How I relish these 26 hours! We formally begin together in a circle with some music, sometimes listening to gorgeous cello being played while we come in and light our candles. We name what we want to put down for the weekend. I have named worry, distraction, self-doubt for example. We then label what we want to pick up – grace, rest, connection … then one by one we blow out our candle and go — to do whatever we need.
I am overjoyed to walk back to my cabin and read, nap, write. Then, we have a peaceful dinner where no small talk is needed. A friend of mine remarked that it sounded like the introvert’s paradise! It is, but I love that I am not alone. There is always a warm smile from others and the whole experience is so intentional. The next morning, after the leisurely quiet breakfast, I go for a long walk around the lake looking up at the tall trees, listening to the wind, feeling peaceful. It is a unique feeling of the mind having time to wander and rest, a respite from our overly distracted world.
Then the regular portion of the retreat nourishes me in a different way. I get to connect with women on a deeper level in small groups and one on one. What are we struggling with? What inspires us? The kinds of questions we don’t get to ask and answer often enough in our busy lives. We practice telling our stories, finding our voices. And the 8 meals that I don’t have to think about or prepare – that alone is a gift. And there is always chocolate.
There was the year we broke dishes and made mosaics. The round piece I made is still in my garden, the moss seeping through the colorful tile pieces. I remember the years we wrote poems, blessings and psalms and I was inspired by the beautiful words people shared. I have spent all day making a basket that I use for muffins at home. One year we did an exercise where we were listened to by another for 8 minutes and did the same for them. Another year, I waltzed with a woman in her 80’s who gently led me around. Last year we marched on the road having our own women’s march. On Saturday night, we play games and laugh.
On Sunday, the services led by Catherine and others in the smaller room in the lodge overlooking the lake, often while rain is gently falling, have contained profound moments of being grateful and comforted by this community of women, many who are role models for me in how to age with reflection, boldness, openness, and grace. We give each other communion, one of the most special ways I have ever received or given that blessing. In fact, it can feel like we are giving and receiving communion the whole weekend in many small ways.
What I realize about this time is that some years I come feeling full and the retreat empties me of what I don’t need to be carrying around. Other years I come feeling more empty and in need of something – rest, slowness, a prayer and I leave feeling full. Either way I drive back over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge feeling grateful that I belong to a church community where a weekend like this is possible. Please consider joining us if you have never gone before. We’d love to see you there!
2019 Women’s Retreat: Stories Matter
January 24 – 27, 2019
Led by Beth Amsbary & Tamara Roberts
Registration form >> here