Considering Creative Arts Retreat Movement Retreats

I had a quiet day, away from parish duties (almost), in which to write an article for the CARM magazine. I should have been leading a retreat this week, but thanks to the pandemic it was cancelled. So I felt it was a good time to take the ‘space’ to reflect.

Afterward writing the article, I went for a long walk by the river mulling things over. As I sat for a rest I did a quick video

A WALK BY THE RIVER DOVE

Article for CARM magazine 2020

I have been on 3 CARM retreats and as I write this should be co-leading one for the first time at Penmaenmawr.  As I reflected on what I might write today I prayerfully did a mindful art exercise.  This is something I would have found too difficult prior to my experiences at CARM retreats.  I clearly remember the very first art session at my first CARM retreat.  We were encouraged to ‘play’ with various materials, to experiment without any clear idea of what we would produce.  That was SO SCARY!!!!  I ended up in tears and in due course, along with another beginner, on what I called the special needs table by the window and near the leader.  She was wonderful and helped me to overcome the fear of failure and over the week I was amazed at what I was able to produce.  

play pieces:

playing with paint on board

Llangasty 6-11 Sept 2015

What I could see from the window
Transfiguration
River at Langasty

My journal entry prior to arriving says:  “What do I want of this week?  Expectations? To be free of fear of making mistakes or not being able to paint or draw so I can enjoy being creative.  I also want to be aware of God’s presence with me and within me.”

Prior to that retreat I had been on various retreats, mainly individually guided, some themed/preached and had usually done something in the art room.  But that was always as a creative release or response to what God was doing, which in those days was always a deep work of inner healing, and not the other way round of setting out to draw or paint a picture and awaiting inspiration.  I hope this makes sense. I had been on one creative retreat (not CARM) in 2006 which brought up tears and fears.  By 2015 I wanted to learn how to paint and to improve so that I could set out to actually produce something that resembled a piece of art.  I am so glad I did go on that CARM retreat.  Not only did I learn some very much needed artistic skills (and I confess for me that was the main reason for going) but once I settled in to God’s presence and listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit I was able to make big steps in overcoming the fear of failure.  I still remember the advice that when painting I’m producing a piece of art which will convey something: I am NOT a camera!

The next CARM retreat was in May 2017 at Penmaenmawr.  The most memorable moment was evening prayer with the theme of Be Still on the beach with the sunset which we all had a go at painting or drawing.  Mine was not particularly good, done in my sketch book.  We were being introduced to the idea of keeping a sketch book with notes about what we could hear and smell to go with the picture. 

Beach Sketches

That night, I wrote this:

I am still.  I am calm.  I am well.
I am at peace with myself
I am at peace with God
and so there will be peace
between me and others…….
          at least that’s the theory!
Laughing and relaxing
praying and being
   in God’s presence
I end the day.

Just before leaving that retreat I had a walk around the garden before praying the labyrinth (something I always do at the start and end of a retreat) and noticed an archway.  I felt drawn to it and to look and see what was beyond.  What does God have for me?  I felt as if new things were opening up.  I did a very quick sketch of the arch.

Archway sketch

A throw-away question to the chaplain/leader on arrival was “how do you get to be one of them?”  I asked her again on the final day and she felt it would be good for me to offer.  So I decided to pray about it and consider offering my services.  Perhaps that was the new thing.   The following year I moved to a new parish and was able to join an art group to improve my skills.  I painted the archway in acrylics. I had previously done a smaller version.

Archway

My third CARM retreat was once again taking me out of my comfort zone and into watercolours.  I am so glad I didn’t totally rebel and retreat into acrylics as I produced a very pleasing flower.

Flower

However my main focus that week was a piece in acrylics which adorns my prayer table and is used daily to remind myself to be open to the Holy Spirit working in my heart.  I didn’t quite have time to complete it whilst on the retreat so finished it at home.  It started as a prayerful response to a stone picked up on the labyrinth to a picture in crayons which was further developed as the week progressed.

Stone sketch
Initial drawing
O Divine Love – finished picture

I am so glad that CARM have encouraged me to continue developing and to offer my experience as a leader.  I look forward to being able to do so and in the meantime continue to pray, paint and write poems for my own use and hopefully to encourage others.

This is what I have written today as I considered how to tell of my experiences:

I may be crazy, mixed up, unsure of what will be
but a CARM retreat I know is a safe place to be
creative in my own simple way
with garden and labyrinth in which to pray
I consider the flowers
knowing God’s care through others.
Fears allayed and calmed
I can express myself unharmed
by criticism
The opposite is true
so I can blossom too.
A happy smile adorns my face
when I remember God’s Grace
received in that place
of acceptance, peace and prayer.
Oh how I wish I was there
with others as we journey together.

As I was trying to decide which image to set as the featured one, I remembered an online Word Art creator, so used that:

Creative Arts Retreat Movement

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