You need to add your imaginative senses to this photo -- the warmth of early summer sun on your skin, the whir of hummingbird-sized dragonflies, the rush of wind sounding like surf in the leafy branches and blowing your hair in your face.
I spent this past weekend at an Opening to Grace retreat led by Tilda Norberg. She is in the area for two weeks teaching a course on healing liturgies at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, with this weekend workshop at the Hermitage in the middle.
Tilda uses and teaches Gestalt Pastoral Care, an approach that is rooted in the Christian ministry of healing, and integrates Gestalt growth work, spiritual companioning and prayer for healing. I just recently completed the Foundational program in GPC, receiving my training from Linda Thomas at Pathways Retreat here in Goshen.
It was an incredibly rich weekend and I can only try to share a few images and moments. I was there as support staff, helping with the cooking and clean up, but we were also able to participate in the sessions, along with six participants who each had an opportunity to work with Tilda in the midst of the gathered ad hoc congregation, four observers/intercessors, and three other support staff.
I connected with two themes that showed up in the work done this weekend. The first dealt with aspects of God's call and gifts of ministry, and how those play out in the dance of relationships with others. The second theme had to do with light.
There was literal light, on leaves and meadows and faces, and metaphorical light, as tears gave way to healing and laughter.
Light played an important role our very first evening and I've received C's permission to tell a little about this. C began her session by speaking out of a gray place of pain and loneliness, and proceeded to work with Tilda's guidance, becoming more aware of and expressing aspects of that pain, and then moving to address it through several Gestalt-style experiments suggested by Tilda.
At a certain point, C was standing, having come to a new awareness of the loving way Jesus looked at her thanks to a faith imagination exercise, and Tilda suggested that she go around the circle, with each of us stepping forward and saying, "I see you, C, and in the name of Christ, I see..." and then adding whatever particulars came to us.
C. started on the other side of the circle from where I was sitting, and one by one someone would step forward, look her in the eyes, and say, "I see you, C, and I see a beautiful child of God." Or whatever affirming truth came to us -- each of us found a different aspect to lift out and speak.
My normal tendency in such situations would be to worry about what I would say and to try to plan something out, but I remained relaxed, unsure of what I'd say, but confident that there would be something. I've been learning to trust this sort of awareness, thanks to my spiritual guidance work and the Gestalt pastoral care training, and I think, in this setting, also thanks to the prayers of the intercessors in our midst.
About two people before me, C had turned so that she was now facing the western windows. It had been a cloudy, drizzly afternoon, but just before sunset the clouds were breaking up and the sunshine came and went, playing across C's face as the wind danced the leafy branches of the trees in the yard.
Then the sun came out fully, and C stood bathed in sunshine. And C noticed. "Look at me! I'm in a spotlight!" She stood for several minutes, soaking it in, her face glowing. From where I was sitting, her face was radiant in the light, her eyes golden, and a line from the psalms kept ringing in my ears: Look to him and be radiant.
It comes in Psalm 34, as I found after searching for it later, and the verses around it fit well:
I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
so your faces shall never be ashamed.
I don't remember exactly what I said to C as I stood facing her, but I do know that when I said "I see you, C," I felt I was indeed truly seeing her, seeing deep into her golden soul, full of God's radiance.
_ Yesterday our Gestalt Pastoral Care training group gathered again at Pathways Retreat Center, which was lovingly decorated for Advent. Our times together are a mixture of presentations and practice, as we take turns learning how to minister to each other and being the one doing Gestalt work.
This means that in a given session, most of us are participating as witnesses, learning as we watch, sometimes having a role to play or a response to make, and praying for those actively working.
During one session yesterday, I was one of the witnesses and the song that Adam Tice wrote for Assembly, Will You Hold me in the Light, kept going through my head. Or more accurately, two phrases – the title and “Hold me in the light of God.” I kept hearing them sing in my head, inviting me to hold the one who was doing the work that session in the light of God.
“Holding someone in the Light” is the way I often visualize intercessory prayer, and I usually think of the light of God as illuminating and healing, cradling the person I am praying for.
During this time of prayer, I had a sense of the light of God as healing, yes, but that sometimes the healing comes through the burning away of dross. The light of God can be painful in its healing and illuminating.
I kept thinking of the fire of roses in George Mac Donald’s The Princess and Curdie. In this fairy tale by the Scotch pastor and writer who influenced C.S.Lewis, Curdie encounters the princess’ great-great-great-ever-so-many-great-grandmother, a mysterious lady who lives in a garret at the top of the tallest tower, spins moonlight into thread, watches over the kingdom, and appears sometimes as an old crone and at others as a beautiful woman. As we learn to know her, it becomes clear that mysterious as she is, she is goodness and grace. MacDonald doesn’t use the words holy or divine, but this royal lady is one of the faces of God for me.
In her room, Curdie finds a hearth where “a great fire was burning, and the fire was a huge heap of roses, and yet it was fire.” The royal lady has a task for him, telling him it needs only trust and obedience, and promising, “It will hurt you terribly, Curdie, but that will be all; no real hurt but much good will come to you from it.”
Curdie is willing, and the lady tells him to thrust both hands into the fire.
Curdie does, painfully, with the end result that his hands are as white and smooth as the lady’s, and with the gift of discernment that as the story progresses helps him to know good from indifferent or evil. We also learn that the lady felt Curdie’s pain every bit as much as he did.
Near the end of the book, the fire of roses appears again, bringing health to one character near death and transformation to another.
As one of the characters in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books warns about Aslan, the great lion who plays a Christ-like role in the books: “He’s not a tame lion, you know.”
The light of God is not a tame light, you know. Sometimes it burns like a refiner’s fire, burning away dross, purifying the silver and gold.
This past weekend I was at a workshop/retreat at a cabin on Lake Shavehead, in Michigan. After a week of rain, two days of sunshine were a delight. Both mornings began with a luminous sky, glowing steam wafting off the lake, and then the dancing sparkles of sunshine on the water.
But my 'sparks of light' for the weekend came a little later in the day. On Saturday my eye was caught by the interplay of light and shadow as the sun hit this old canning jar.
And my second 'spark of light' was the interactions of this group of Gestalt Pastoral Care trainees. It is our second year together, and this was the first meeting of the fall. Our sessions are always a mix of hard work and often tears, liberally seasoned with grace and healing laughter -- another interplay of light and shadow. It was good to be together again.
I am wondering about the way my understanding of 'spark of light' seems to have something to do with this interplay of shadow and light -- something to notice and to reflect on further as I seek sparks of light this week.
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"