|Retreat organizer Madeline Stewart with retreat leader Elizabeth Nordquist.|
"What do you long for and need?
- quiet or conversation?
- rest or activity?
- inspiration or relief?
- solitude or community?
- or maybe just time to reflect and journal?"
With these words, the Reverend Dr. Elizabeth Nordquist invited us women to plan our time this weekend according to the needs we were feeling.
It was the annual women's retreat of St. Augustine by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Santa Monica, being held at the Mary & Joseph Retreat Center at the top of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
The theme was "God's Gift to You; Your Gift to God."
Elizabeth read aloud and then brought to life the stories of five biblical women:
- Hannah - 1 Samuel, ch. 1
- Lydia and the anonymous slave girl - Acts 16:11-40
- The bent-over woman - Luke 8: 43-48
- Phoebe - Romans 6: 1-2
She invited us to be like Hannah, who stood in passionate but silent prayer in the house of YHWH at Shiloh, asking for a male child, the necessary key to social status in that day.
Pastor Elizabeth imagined Hannah holding a tray before God with her assets and her needs: she was barren, but her husband loved her. Other women made fun of her, but she had deep faith in God.
When she was rebuked by a priest for suspected drunkenness, she called him out:
"Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time." The priest repented and blessed her.
She went home "and her countenance was sad no longer." She did get that baby.
It reminded me of "But still she persisted"--both Hannah then and Senator Elizabeth Warren in 2017.
Pastor Elizabeth invited us all to go before God with our deepest needs, first drawing a sketch of "the things on our tray" --items in our lives that we could lay before God, whether sources of joy or of pain.
This was just the first night of a powerful weekend together.