Robert Wuthnow writes “If spiritual practice clarifies one’s self-identity, including art in one’s practice provides a way to offer a part of oneself to God.” So along with lots of reading, I have been participating in an online retreat with Abbey of the Arts. I thought that having some structure to the beginning of my school semester would help me get into a routine. Soul of a Pilgrim is a 40-day Lenten retreat offering each participant the opportunity to explore their spiritual and artistic nature each day. Like Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, this is a pilgrimage to deep understanding of self in relation to God and to art and creation.
We are asked to set aside time each day to read the email message and ponder the questions posed to us. The questions might ask us about the messages we carry around that may be obstacles to our happiness; our disappointments in life; our hopes for our spiritual and artistic future. We are asked to consider finding a scallop shell to join us on our journey like the pilgrims who walk the Camino de Santiago each year. The grooves in the scallop shell represent the many journeys a pilgrim could set out on in his or her life from the centre and the shells mcould also be used to gather water or as eating bowls. There are guided meditations and video clips for our further study.
Soul of a Pilgrim’s retreat urges each participant to begin an art journal and to use the mandala model as a basis for our creations – each sacred circle is filled with symbols and colors and words depicting our own personal journeys. Art and revelations are shared among participants online, each of us offering encouragement and support.
We were asked to write a seven-word prayer and then a seven-line poem and mine turned out to be one in the same:
Let this day be filled with love.
Let this day be filled with kindness.
Let this day be filled with peace.
Let this day be filled with forgiveness.
Let this day be filled with creation.
Let this day be filled with grace.
Let this day be filled with God.
Each day or two I create a new mandala – here are some of them.
1. Sacred Shadow: I think we embody a sacred and a dark side but each can be connected by an open heart. We learn and grow from our experiences and when our hearts feel closed we can venture to open it up just a very little bit. I have loved the saying by Ralph Waldo Emerson borrowed by Leonard Cohen. “There is a crack in everything God has made. – That’s how the light gets in.”
3. The Crayons Chose Me: I started working on this using my box of favourite markers but then I decided to pull out my 64 box of Crayola crayons and turn it backwards to me. I reached in without looking and whatever color came up – I used all along the edge and in the middle of this mandala – hence the title.
4. Breathe in God: This is a collage/marker piece I did after my seven-word poem took a turn during my morning meditation. As I was meditating the poem I was breathing to changed to Breathe in Peace, Breathe out Peace – Breathe in Love Breathe out Love etc. and then as I carried on, it changed again to Breathe in God – Breathe out Peace, Breathe in God, Breathe out Love etc. and it was such a lovely feeling that I carried it with me all day and created this collage mandala when I got home.
As part of my study I watched the lovely and moving movie, The Way about a bereaved father’s journey on the Camino de Santiago. My husband and I lost a dear friend last year and at his funeral, some of the letters he had emailed back home from his own Camino pilgrimage were shared with us. They were deeply moving and inspiring. Perhaps one day I will venture out to walk the 800 kilometres of the Camino de Santiago but until then, I am making a 40-day pilgrimage from my studio and favourite chair.
 Wuthnow, Robert. Creative Spirituality. 2001. University of California Press. pg 135.