I see a lot of requests for ideas for retreats, especially women’s retreats. Often the request is for quick or easy ideas. I try to keep an eye out for books or work that would make good retreat fodder- to be mulled, prayed over, moved by, and carry away back into “real” life. If you are the kind of person who needs to keep retreat potential in your back pocket, I recommend Rozella Haydée White’s new book, Love Big: The Power of Revolutionary Relationships to Heal the World.
The chapters of Love Big focus on what it means to truly love and embrace one’s self, heart, mind, and soul. According to White, this is best done through truly considering God’s own modeling of self love through the Trinity and then imitating that love in fullness to ourselves and then to others.
As White talks about healing one’s self, she continues to mention the theme of revolutionary relationships. It’s not until the book is almost over that she then describes revolutionary relationships, what they look like, and how to have them. As I read, I wanted her to define the terms at the beginning. It was only after I finished the book that I understood we cannot actually be open to the fundamental power of revolutionary relationships until we have done the work on ourselves, with God’s help and faithfulness, to be more whole and restored. I cannot give to a revolutionary relationship until I am in a functional and healthy relationship with myself.
With regard to that self-work, White says, “Faith takes root in your life- often without logical or rational explanation- for the sole purpose of inviting you to wonder what life could be like if you unapologetically valued and loved yourself, others, and the One who created us all.” (10)
In the potential of the aforementioned retreat, it is good to press participants into acknowledging or beginning to acknowledge what they know to be true about their own selves, the truth they often hide. White asserts, “Being introduced to something is not the same as knowing something. When we know something, we do the work to nurture it.” (94)
If we are not actually acknowledging our own soul wounds and then working to care for our souls by loving ourselves and cultivating strong and revolutionary relationships, our life is a shadow of what it could be. A shadow is a real thing, but it is not the truest and fullest form of what it mirrors or resembles. When we pretend that our soft prayers and well wishes for a different world are enough, we are being dishonest with ourselves, with others, and with God.
It is time to Love Big, to be willing to do the work of wholeness, and then to take up the working of repairing the world without fear. Like White, what you are doing at present may not be the most life giving thing you could be doing, but it is easy to tell yourself it’s better than nothing. God’s will for us, according to White (and I agree), is not a choice between lukewarm or nothing. It’s an all-encompassing, healing, radical, and revolutionary love that stirs and pushes us to show that same kind of love in all aspects of our lives, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
White’s publisher, Fortress Press, has a discussion guide for the book and if I were planning this metaphorical retreat, I’d require reading the book and then have sessions to discuss the chapters in groups, to do some journaling or art or meditation around issues that arise, and to make an action plan for going home (to continue the work).
This book, with the discussion guide, would also be good for a book study group, a college group, or even, potentially, older high school students. The writing is easy to read and flows smoothly. White’s examples and stories always left me wanting more, but they grace the narrative rather than becoming the focus. It’s White’s own directive writing that drives the book.
The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Big Timber Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Big Timber, MT. She blogs at lutheranjulia.blogspot.com and readsallthethings.com. She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit and is President of the board of RevGalBlogPals, Inc.
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