Retreat is my treat. Ever since the 1990’s when I began to study Spiritual Direction, and through the long process of becoming a pastor, going to spend time at a monastery has sustained my prayer life. It’s like slipstreaming those trucks at 65 mph; you drop into a community whose discipline of prayer can carry you along when you are faint with worry and doubt and life seems too cluttered to be able to pray your way to anything that makes sense. You can sleep and eat and go sit in the chapel with the experts who hold the door for you to step into a world in which prayer is offered in the words of psalms and in the silences.
And then I had a chance to hold a brush in my hand and create something beautiful. It’s my native language – painting and drawing, making hand and eye come together to create a world. So an art vacation every year is also a necessity; a chance to go home again in a very deep way. So going off to a monastery to paint an icon is two treats in one.
An icon is not just a picture, but a window into the heavenly glory from which the saints and angels look out at you, inviting you into their world for a moment. The light streams out from their faces, and their eyes are quiet with the peace for which we long.
This week at St Gertrude’s we painted an icon of Hildegard of Bingen, a remarkable woman who preached the grace of health and wholeness in a bleak and desperate time. While Lutherans don’t customarily venerate saints, I came to appreciate Hildegard’s graceful image of being a feather on the breath of God, the sense of lightness and joy and peace. Just what I needed in my week away.