Weeks ago - over a month now, I'm pretty sure - I went on a retreat to Saugatuck, Michigan, with the women of my current church. I was a little reluctant, as I knew only two of the 26 women that were going to be there, and said retreat was bound to involve planning, and packing, and riding in a car during times when I could be...sleeping. Or whatever it is that everyone else does on the weekends; I haven't quite gotten the hang of it yet. And then, of course, I would have to interact with people, answering the same five or six questions over and over again – yes, I work in theater, no, I'm not an actress, yes, I've been living in Chicago for a little over a year now, no, the school I went to isn't that Truman, it's the other one that you have probably never seen. And yes, I've been to the church before. You may have met me and forgotten me; anything's possible!
Anyway, the actual point is, that retreat was awesome. Seriously. At this very moment – typing in my room as possible tornado weather happens outside, steeling myself to go to work later and wondering when I'll have to make the time for catching up with all the things I should be doing, I still feel like some part of me is still out there, at that beach house in Michigan. Probably standing up to my ankles in freezing cold water, hugging myself and giggling madly because the stars are so beautiful they are making my heart skip.
I wish I had pictures to post, to try and help convey how gorgeous it all was, but I didn't take any. I forgot my camera in my suitcase, most of the time. I also left my computer at home, and my phone turned off, because I didn't have any reception anyway. Instead, I went outside, walked on the beach, ate tons of great food, wrote, drank a lot of wine, and listened.
I listened to women I had never met before, women I might never have spoken to otherwise, talk about some of their most intimate fears, deepest pains, ugliest problems, the kinds of things you would never expect church people to say out loud.
I listened to women old enough to be my grandmothers celebrate new and exciting dating prospects, and others cuss God out for the cruel injustices they'd experienced and still couldn't understand. People talked about debilitating mental illnesses. Dysphoria. Difficult families. Homophobia in the church, and how it had kept them away for years. Chauvinism in the Bible, and the parts they couldn’t stand reading! They talked about wanting to have children, and not being able to, and not wanting children, and having been forced to have them anyway. They talked about loved ones who died. And about being afraid of death. And we talked a lot about all the delicious food we were eating, and the naps we were taking, and how long it had been, for everyone, since any indulgence felt so guiltless.
Somewhere in there, I finally talked, as well as listening. I still can’t entirely believe it, but I felt safe enough to share some of the most personal fears in my life with a roomful of women who were all but strangers to me. And I definitely came away better for it.
At the beginning of the weekend, our host had promised us that this was a safe space – a place to be Real in. I don't think I've ever been so shocked to see a promise so completely delivered on. At any church-related event, I always expect to be on the outside of things- floating around the margins, vaguely guilty because I'm so certain that everyone else must be infinitely holier than me. But it wasn't like that, this time. I didn't leave this retreat resolving to go out and be a better person. I left feeling…refreshed. Lighter. Maybe a little bit wiser? And, above all, full. Long after the wine and pie are gone, the feeling of being loved and accepted remains. This is what Jesus’ people should be like. These are the kind of people that I want to be.