A sisterhood has traditionally been a community of nuns or other religious women. A sisterhood is also a group of women who are bound together through shared experiences, who—with a desire to live fully into their lives—are intentional about creating connections.
Today, I’m going to write about the latter. This past weekend my faith community held a Women’s Retreat and I was one of the six members of the planning and leadership team. Even though a lot of preparation took place—in order to develop and facilitate a weekend for forty-six women to be in the presence of grace—the concept was simple: create an environment where each woman, obviously unique in her own way, would be fed and heard.
I’ve been blessed with women of love and courage all my life, and I know how fortunate I am. It started with my Mom, then the wonderful gift of genuine, special women as friends. I have two amazing daughters and an awesome granddaughter. These wonderful relationships don’t minimize the importance of the men in my life. On the contrary, they elevate those connections.
Sue and Joanne are our gifted and passionate pastors, and the weekend was built around their presentations of Bible selections, sharing narratives of four different women. Then, women in our community told personal stories of their lives—times where they had to face challenges, overcome adversity, or be strong enough to believe in themselves. The vulnerability of these women was beautiful, tender, sometimes funny, and always honest.
Each of these times, with all of us together, was followed by breakouts where Hannah, Renee, Shannon and I led small group discussions. Having done this for some time, I’m aware of how delicate this can be. We had a gathering of diverse women who made a (tough for some) decision to spend their time with a large assemblage, not knowing—outside of the basic framework—what was really going to take place those days. They didn’t know what the agenda was, who they’d be sharing a house with or even who they would be rooming with. But, as we got to know each other better, vulnerability and pain sat with compassion and acceptance. Sharing became easier as fear of judgment fell away.
There were women from five different decades attending the retreat, and some offered their talents by leading workshops on meditation, movement, painting and walking in nature. One played her guitar at our service. Another took photographs. We were in different stages and places in our lives but were all united by this incredible gift of sisterhood.
We gave each woman a journal to write down her experiences as the weekend went on. We encouraged sharing and camaraderie and got to know one another, in the early hours of the morning, over coffee and tea. We told stories about where we come from, and how we became who we now are. We listened and respected and lifted up one another.
The evening before we left to come home, the six of us were back at the main meeting place cleaning it up, packing what was left from earlier meals and sessions, and preparing the space for yesterday’s worship service. We were all tired. We were all over-filled—in the best way possible—and we were all laughing hysterically. In those moments there was palpable joy and love and a sense of an almost-completed journey together. That late night, half hour of grace-filled laughter connected us in a way that, I believe, we will never forget.
In a space and place, with a desire to bond with other women, we slowed down enough to be intentional. We slowed down—even with a full schedule—to listen and ask and share. In spite of the vicissitudes of life we slowed down enough to “be”.
For yesterday’s closing service, Shannon welcomed the women and drew us in to a place of gratitude. Sue led the gathering and shared one final message. Hannah invited each woman to draw on a square of fabric that will become part of a quilt. Renee asked the women to offer those quilt pieces to God as a gift of love and community. Joanne led communion, and as each woman stepped forward, the six of us offered the bread and wine and a small stone on which was written one word. I said the final prayer and as Sue gave the closing blessing a lone voice sang out, “Holy Spirit Reign Down” and Sue said, “Amen”.
Walls between generations and backgrounds were broken down. Tears and embraces and respect and acknowledgment flowed freely. As we stood in a circle of love, we celebrated God, we celebrated all those strong women who went before us, we celebrated the lives we’ve lived so far and a nascent sisterhood celebrated the days that lie ahead. Thank you God.
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