Retreating 2


I spent most of the last week at Nicholaston House on the Gower peninsula, near Swansea. It is an utterly beautiful part of the world and the weather this week was glorious. The house is a Christian retreat centre but this week there was no formal programme, other than optional daily devotions. There was good food (cooked breakfasts and particularly amazing puddings at dinner) and my room had the most fabulous view over Oxwich Bay. I could have happily sat looking at the view all week.

view

I wanted to go away for a few days before I start the new job next month and I had specific goals for the time which were to give time to let God’s word sink in so that it can change me, and to rebuild better patterns of devotional life. So when I was packing, I did not take lots of knitting or novels which is what I normally do on holidays. I wanted to avoid the distractions as much as possible. I spent some time looking around online for ideas of ways to use the time productively and, to be honest, I didn’t find a whole lot that seemed relevant or useful to me.

In the end, I had a wonderful week, and so I thought I would write a bit about what I did that worked, in case it’s useful to other people.

I started by asking for recommendations of books to take on Facebook and had some great suggestions. Here’s what I took:

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Books. Three notebooks, one book about ministry, one book of Puritan prayers, one Bible. And a Kindle.

What I used: the teal Moleskine and the Magma sketchbook (yellow spine). I used the Kindle for Bible reading because I mostly ended up doing this outside and it’s easier to carry. I also read two other books on the Kindle, both by Mike Reeves. I probably read Enjoy Your Prayer Life too fast to get the most benefit from it, but I absolutely loved Christ Our Life. I read a chapter every day and I loved the way he kept the focus of all our hope and salvation and grace and the gospel on Christ. Christ isn’t just the means to salvation, he is our salvation. And so on. Highly recommended.

I also bought another Kindle book that someone recommended, Tim Keller’s book on prayer. I didn’t read this but I did skim the introduction and saw that he had begun to overhaul his prayer life by working through the psalms. I know that’s hardly revolutionary but it seemed like a good place for me to start too. So on the first night I read Psalm 1 and I was particularly struck by the need to meditate on the law of the Lord day and night. That seemed a million miles away from my normal habits of reading the Bible for a few minutes then forgetting it for the rest of the day. So I wanted to find better ways of taking time to meditate on the word, letting it really sink in throughout the day.

The first thing I did was to start journalling as I read through each day’s psalm. The way I do this islike a written form of meditation. I end up writing out the whole psalm, but also my own thoughts, prayers, other scriptures that come to mind, and so on. Sometimes I’ll work straight through from the first verse to the last, and sometimes I’ll circle around as the psalm returns to earlier themes. One thing I noticed while doing this was just how strongly it highlighted the connections between the psalms. I spent around 45 minutes to an hour doing this on each psalm.

And then the fun really started. By the end of the written journalling, I’d have a sense of what was important in my meditation on the psalm – what I wanted to remember, what I wanted to think about more and what I wanted to celebrate. And I’d also worked through the detail of the psalm so I could see what images it uses and what emotional response I had. So I did some art journalling.

Here’s what I took:
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Tissues. Small tin with sharpener and eraser. Travel watercolour set and plastic palette. Water bottle. Glue. Coloured card. Sketchbook (not watercolour paper). Very old Bible. Postcard sized sketchbook. Brushes. Scissors and craft knife. Selection of pens and pencils including a metallic gold pen and three glossy opaque pens in black, grey and white. The white was particularly useful.

This amount of kit is very easily portable. I took it to the beach, the garden, and the cliff tops. Nicholaston House actually has an art room which I used for some of the collaging, and probably would have used a lot more if the weather had been miserable. I am not a good painter, but I love playing with colour and found that this was a great way of spending a lot more time meditating on each psalm. I spent maybe 3-4 hours on each page, though I did Psalms 1-2, and Psalms 3-4 each on a single page. My way of going about it was to paint with the watercolours in the larger sketchbook. When I was satisfied, more or less, with the image, I tore it out and glued it into the Magma sketchbook, along with other collage bits, some cut out of the very old Bible – ouch.

Proof of my destroyed Bible (I couldn’t ever be one of those people who does art journalling actually in their Bible):

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Then I added words and details with the pens. The white pen is great because you can write over any colour with it. The gold pen satisfies my need for sparkle and it’s good for trying to represent God’s glory with inadequate art.

Throughout, the focus was on the process of doing it and the meditation on the psalm. These aren’t works of art destined to be displayed or admired. They’re expressions of my time with God. If you try this kind of meditation, your outcome will (and should) look different from mine. But because I love them and I want to share them with you, here are the pages I did this week:psalmspsalms12psalms34psalm5outside psalm5

 


2 thoughts on “Retreating

  • Phyl

    That’s fascinating! First, I’m really glad you had a good time and that it was meaningful. Second, I am really surprised I had never heard of using art as a way to meditate on scripture. When I think about it, it makes perfect sense. Thanks for sharing your process. I’ll have to give this a try some time. I think it would make a difference. Like you, I often forget what I was reading 5 minutes after I walk away from my Bible. I hate that.

    • theoldshed Post author

      There is a long tradition of art inspired by Scripture, but I think art as a way of meditation may be a comparatively recent trend. If you google ‘Bible art journalling’ you’ll find lots of examples of it. I hope you find it as helpful as I have!

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