Office of Education and Schools
Not only refreshing, but empowering — those are the qualities that shone through at this year’s Women’s Spiritual Retreat at Louhelen Baha’i School, April 29–May 1, going by comments of some of the participants.
Rhonda Palmer of Ann Arbor, Michigan, called her weekend experience a “little pilgrimage” and feels she will be better able “to incorporate the arts into devotions and children’s classes” as she returns to serve her community. Says Palmer, “These are things that I only learn experientially, and boy howdy did I!”
Reflecting on recent guidance from the Universal House of Justice calling us to rectitude of conduct, chastity and elimination of prejudice, Jenna Cook, a college student from Coon Rapids, Minnesota, stated, “The retreat gave me confidence I can uphold these standards in the real world.”
Thirty-six women from nine U.S. states and a Canadian province, ranging in age from 19 to 91, came together to celebrate their strengths and to support one another.
Edris Taborn, program coordinator at Louhelen, reports this yearly event was born out of dinner conversation by a handful of women dreaming of an event to meet their needs.
Now in its sixth year, the annual retreat has evolved into a collaborative effort. Not only do multiple presenters offer services in their specialty for a portion of the weekend, but they also participate actively in segments facilitated by others. At the same time, those attending are invited to engage in creative acts and share their talents. The result is a uniquely feminine collaboration of unity in diversity.
Over the years, this collaborative process has been steadily refined. This year, a notable “raising of the bar” was evident. Consulting as a group through phone conferencing, Kathryn Lucatelli, Kim Douglas, Jane Helzer, Barb Qualls and Beth Carrier were able to layer their presentations into a supportive whole as well as to weave artistic activities throughout to reinforce learning. Heather Mitchell and Marabeth Reichel also contributed to the presentation, and Carolyn Koebel drummed.
Quotes utilized in the classroom, to stimulate inward love and compassion for self, reappeared in songs during devotionals or as dialogue during dramatic performances.
Themes of learning to fix one’s gaze on positive intention were reinforced with dance moves, as pairs created hand and body movements to express themselves as they danced in “soul train” lines to the beat of drums. Connection with the divine was emphasized through a movement workshop, and community building was reinforced with use of a body band activity.
Presenters designed activities to help the weekend’s participants strengthen their connections with each other and with the divine. Qualls, who provided music and devotions over the weekend, states she particularly enjoyed “the level of trust that we presenters shared … having real and deep consultation about our goals ahead of time. Each aspect of the session complemented each other.”
At weekend’s close, participants shared how it influenced them. Ann Grove, of Worthington, Ohio, notes that the connection of dance movement with faith helped her refocus on “knowledge, volition, and action,” adding, “I feel like a pioneer again!”
She and Palmer collaborated on a special Saturday evening dramatic presentation in remembrance of ‘Abdu’l-Baha — written by Palmer and portrayed by Grove — recalling stories of His time in America a century ago.
Cook says she was looking forward to sharing things she learned about incorporating movement into spirituality with youth groups when she returns home. Recently having completed a year volunteering at Louhelen, she says her weekend experience inspired her in particular regarding the act of service— “to not be afraid and get out there and do those things — like teach the Faith and act as a true Baha’i in the college setting.”
She encourages young women to come next year, stating the experience will help them “understand how to really embody who they are. … I learned from all the amazing women that I met — their shared stories and hardships that go on in life. They’ve been through so much and are still strong in their belief. They shine so brightly. Young women would be so uplifted by that!”
Louhelen administrators and program staff encourage women of all ages to attend this annual event next year. It offers mothers and daughters, mentors and youth, sisters, and women in local communities a unique bonding and spiritually uplifting experience.