Catskills Retreat

Pratt Rock View

Mountains framed against cloud-mottled blue sky; orange monarch butterflies dancing over fields of goldenrod bright yellow in the sun; thunder rolling and echoing between mountains; silence broken only by the rushing and gurgling of a tumbling creek; warblers flitting among wildflowers; star-besprent sky resplendent with Milky Way and shooting stars; naps in a sun-warmed hammock; breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the deck overlooking forest and mountains; and days of rich silence…

I spent three days this past week on retreat in the Catskills. A personal retreat, to spend time with myself and God, and of course Ramble, who goes most places with me. I checked in with Stephen each evening, but otherwise spoke with no one the whole time, other than the woman at a farm stand where I bought deliciously fresh kale and new potatoes and also colorful chrysanthemums to plant back here at home. The Airbnb cabin I stayed in was refreshingly quiet and private, with a wonderful deck where I spent most of the past three days, except when out hiking. And except for during a thrilling thunderstorm the last evening and the peaceful pattering of rain the next morning. During those times I pulled a comfortable chair right in front of an open sliding glass door and simply sat enjoying the sights and sounds of the weather.

I’ve been longing for a time of solitude like this, and it more than met my expectations. I took a variety of books and sketching supplies, and I meandered between them and times of silent meditation and prayer.

I started out loosely working through Note to Self, by Charles LaFond, also referring to Ruth Haley Barton’s Sacred Rhythms, as I pondered and worked on a basic outline for writing my Rule of Life– personalized reminders for how grow into the life I wish for myself and that God desires for me, the process of spiritual transformation and growth. As Barton puts it, a Rule of Life seeks to respond to the questions, “Who do I want to be?” and “How do I want to live?” or “How do I want to live so I can be who I want to be?” I came up with seven broad categories I want to address, with each category broken down into more specific sections, on which I’ll write briefly, so I can then review one section each day, kind of like a daily Post-It Note to myself. I plan to work on fleshing out those chapters with encouraging, motivating, and challenging words over the next few weeks.

I then turned to The Gift of Being Yourself, by David Benner, which I’d read a while back and was ready to reread, and Christine Labrum’s Journey to Become. Throughout my retreat I punctuated reading and pondering with a few hikes, a couple of naps, some sketching of wondrous views, and times of simply sitting in silence. Both Journey to Become and The Gift of Being Yourself gave me much to think about as they helped me look at my life to better see where I am now spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and even physically. Journey to Become is laid out in short chapters combining artwork with insightful questions, so was perfect for a retreat, and I would often read a section, then ponder it as I hiked or sketched.

It will take me while to process all that came up during those times of reading, journaling, pondering, and praying, but the nutshell version is that I came away with a greater understanding of how weary I have been in body and soul. And I realized that much of that weariness is due to the many ways that I have been living according to other people’s expectations of me or, more accurately, my perception of other people’s expectations.

As I sat with that realization and allowed myself to feel the weariness, I sensed God’s invitation to rest from expectations, other people’s and my own, and enter a fallow time, when I may not be as externally productive as I like to be. I’m sure that will be hard for me at times, and I will have to resist the temptation to evaluate myself based on my productivity, but I am confident that as I rest in that way, my inner being will heal and expand more into who God has made me to be.

Of course, I have regular life to keep on living, with various responsibilities that are still here, so the challenge in those areas is to do them without slipping into feeling like I need to be better or stronger or in any way more than I am. I am planning to continue reading and pondering and also discussing some of these thoughts with Stephen and some close friends, and am hopeful that that will help me not simply return to my former patterns of being.

Another realization I came away with was that my weariness and weakness is exactly where Jesus can best meet me. As long as I am trying to be someone other than who he made me to be or to do all sorts of things to meet other people’s expectations, I am relying on myself and not on him. As the Apostle Paul said, “But  [Jesus] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10)

Vinegar Hill State Game Refuge

 

Sketching as Prayer Retreat– Saturday, August 28

Sketching as Prayer Retreat
August 28, 2021
9:45 
AM to 3:00 PM

Immanuel Church
Wappingers Falls, NY
 

Join us for a day of retreat, rest, and renewal as we open our sketchbooks or journals, eyes, and hearts to God’s presence in his creation and look to discover his fingerprints all around us. This is an opportunity to slow down and renew our focus on God through silence and prayer. We will also have times to encourage one another with the thoughts, insights, and sketches or written words that have come from our observation and meditation. Artistic experience not necessary; you can sketch with any kind of simple art supplies or with written words.

Details:
Saturday, August 28, 2021
9:45 AM to 3:00 PM
Immanuel Church (Wappingers Falls, NY)

Email Melissa Fischer (melissafischerartist@gmail.com) for more details or to let her know you’ll participate.

Retreat

“You have no events scheduled today.”

When I see that in my Inbox, I feel as though I have been handed a gift. And I have—a gift of time, time to disengage, unwind, rest, play, or read. To walk with Ramble, to sit with Acadia purring on my lap and a cup of tea in my hand, to sketch and write. When that gift is combined with solitude and silence, I begin to find and draw forth the quieter parts of myself, the parts that slip into the background when I live with noise and the busyness of daily life and my inner compulsion to keep constantly connected with the world via the email, texts, and phone calls (thankfully I am only occasionally on social media these days, so that is less of a factor than it used to be).

I’ve set aside a few days as a retreat. While I won’t have complete solitude, much of my time will be alone, and I will see that welcome message in my Inbox each morning, if I look at my email at all. The first day of a retreat is more of a puttering day for me, as I gradually disengage from my usual responsibilities. Even though my calendar may tell me I am unscheduled, my mind takes a bit longer to let go. That’s why I try to set aside three or more days of retreat once or twice a year. So today I puttered around the house and in my garden, my mind gradually slowing down and moving into a more relaxed state.

Tomorrow I expect to be more and less focused. Less focused on “shoulds” and more focused on trees and birds and spring flowers and what they reveal about myself or about God. By day three I am usually more “in the moment” and in a more relaxed attitude of prayer and contemplation than I typically am, better able to let go of the “This is a retreat; I want to make the most of it,” frame of mind and instead just walk through the day appreciating the life I have, in a more natural connection with the quieter parts of who I am and in communion with God.

I generally find that for the first few days of an extended retreat I am withdrawing from people, cherishing the respite I feel from being over-connected and over-committed. After that I begin to look outward again, as my inner being has become rested and refreshed, and I find myself looking forward to connecting. But I’m not there yet, so now, I will step away from my computer and into the peace of my retreat.

I wrote this piece two days ago on the first day of my retreat. Below are my sketches from Days 1 & 2. And now I will once again step away from my computer and return to the refreshing rest of retreat.

Musings after spending several hours sketching an oak tree

 

A to Z April Blogging R

Sketching as Prayer Spring Retreat– May 21-24, 2019

I’m excited that I’ll be leading my “Sketching as Prayer” retreat at Holy Cross Monastery again this spring. I first held this retreat last October, and had a wonderful time with the participants who had a variety of artistic experience from beginner to very accomplished artist and who brought a broad spectrum of spiritual perspectives. I think we were all enriched by hearing one another’s thoughts and by sharing ideas and enthusiasm. I am hoping we can have a similar variety of perspectives, beliefs, and experience this spring.

Lodging is in comfortable rooms that were formerly monks’ cells, and all meals are included (the monastery has a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef who prepares delicious meals). Holy Cross Monastery overlooks the Hudson River and has beautiful grounds with paths to wander through the field and woods bordering the river, as well as many comfortable places inside and out to sit and relax. See the link below or email me (melissafischerartist@gmail.com) for more information.

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
(Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

Seeing heaven here on earth and recognizing God’s presence, whether in the wildness of a burning bush or in the subtle budding of a shrub in spring, requires slowing down, stepping aside from our busyness, and becoming receptive for what we haven’t yet perceived. Sketching can be a pathway to seeing, to noticing the ways God is speaking through creation, and to becoming aware of his presence in the world around us. And in the process we are drawn into prayer, either with words or in silent communion with God, and into worship of the Master Artist.

In this retreat we will open our sketchbooks, eyes, and hearts to God’s presence in his creation. We will cover the basics of sketching and some basic watercolor techniques to capture the essence of a subject, whether person, animal, or landscape. In the process we will look with eyes of faith into the world to see God’s touch all around us, as we enter into prayer through the pages of our sketchbooks.

Sketching as Prayer Information and Registration