Every year, I go on a week-long retreat. I take my journal and Bible, but no other reading materials. I usually spend a lot of my retreat time writing in my journal.
One time, the retreat director suggested I spend my retreat trying to express myself through a medium other than writing. She explained that the retreat center had a large art room and I was welcome to use any of their materials.
I felt an involuntary shudder. No writing? How could I go for a whole week, and a retreat week at that, without writing?
I write almost every day. I started keeping a diary when I was ten years old, and I have been faithfully journaling ever since. At times, I have had stacks and stacks of journals, the piles only kept manageable by moves from apartment to apartment and city to city; at moving times, I would reread old journals, save anything significant and discard the rest.
So the suggestion that I spend a whole week without writing caused me some distress. But, I moved against my resistance, put away my journal and went to the art room.
I first tried watercolors, with limited success. I fared a bit better with pastel pencils, mostly filling blank sheets of construction paper with bands of color. I did notice that as the days passed, my drawings went from darker to lighter colors, which I took as a good sign.
By the middle of the week, though, I found my voice through collage. I scanned dozens of magazines and catalogs, cutting out pictures that caught my eye and then assembling them in ways that revealed my inner thoughts. By week’s end, I had created a huge collage that tracked my spiritual journey over the past year.
One image from my collage that still stands out for me was from a car advertisement—a picture of a windshield and rearview mirror taken from the driver’s seat. Through the wide windshield lay an open vista—the future; in the rearview mirror was the receding past.
I am in a time of transition now and feeling somewhat disoriented and vulnerable as I start to build a new life in a new place. I can easily get stuck looking in the rearview mirror, remembering wistfully what I left behind.
This image from my collage is a reminder to “consider not the things of the past” as the Prophet Isaiah says, but to look ahead, to keep my eye on the vista that is opening up before me.