Creating Together: Jesuits Invite You to an Interactive Art Retreat

The hands of retreat artist, Mark Blancke, S.J., from "Drawn Into Friendship, An Interactive Art Retreat."

CLICK HERE to participate in Drawn into Friendship: An Interactive Art Retreat.

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In 2015, I was living in Cleveland working in campus ministry at St. Ignatius High School when they asked me to put together a day-long retreat for faculty and staff. After some thought, I decided to team up with the school’s art teacher. We invited retreatants to a rented room in a local coffee shop to “Paint and Sip” – not wine – but lattés and cold brew as we led them through a series of drawing and meditative exercises centered on the Creation Story found in Genesis. As it turns out, I was out of town the day of the retreat, but I returned to hear it was a hit.

When the lockdowns started earlier this year, I, like others, soon started to miss family, friends, my faith community, and the people I have the privilege of ministering to here in Chicago. The pandemic had, of course, put an end to all in-person events. Several weeks into the shelter-in-place, dispirited and squirrely, I came across a quote from Pope Francis concerning our present situation: 

What we are living now is a place of ‘metanoia’ (conversion), and we have the chance to begin…So let’s not let it slip from us, and let’s move ahead….I’m living this as a time of great uncertainty. It’s a time for inventing, for creativity.

Inspired by Francis’ call to conversion, community-building, and creativity, I thought why not take that 2015 retreat and make it virtual for those who might also be feeling just as cooped up and restless as me. So, that’s what I and several other Jesuits with whom I live have done. 

Naively, I thought we could cobble something together in a couple of days. The hope was to have it published in those first weeks of Easter, for people to pray with throughout the season. Forward a month-and-a-half later and only now have we completed the finishing touches.

 At a recent mass, the presider stated: “Salvation is not efficient.” Coordinating this virtual retreat has made me realize that creation, too, is not efficient. What I thought was going to work the first, second, and third time around was not the case. When something wasn’t quite right, we had to edit, clip, rearrange, adapt, and, well, get creative. Even now, after viewing the final cut, there are still things I would like to change. But there comes a point when you simply have to let go of the idea of perfection. 

Working on the retreat reminded me that the creative process is messy. It can be frustrating. It requires patience and a generous and forgiving spirit. That there is grace in the process as much as “the product.” The same is true for life in general. Whether we’re crafting an art retreat, nurturing a marriage, raising children, cultivating gardens, or struggling to hand over the project of our lives to the God who got the ball rolling in the first place. All of it takes commitment, hope, and willingness to try, try, and try again.

In the end, I think it’s fitting that the production of this retreat has taken so long to bring everything together, and that its release will more-or-less coincide with the Feast of Pentecost. Because, Pentecost is an invitation to see that creation never was “finished,”  nor was it a one-time event that happened once-and-for-all “in the beginning.”

At Pentecost, God took a group of disoriented and traumatized men and women and breathed on them the same breath that was present at the formation of the world. Pentecost is an act of re-creation and a proclamation that God is more than willing to mold and remold, to roll up her sleeves and work with what she’s got, to dirty her fingers with the fallen stardust that we are. Patience, persistence, and a generous dose of kindly playfulness is essential. 

This week someone reminded me that the ancient Israelites wrote the book of Genesis in captivity while exiled in Babylon. Sitting around campfires in a land unfamiliar, they huddled together and weaved a story of how they came to be. Unlike the Babylonian creation story, where humanity issues forth from the guts of violent gods, the Judeo-Christian God, in remarkable contrast, acts as a benevolent presider of a cosmic liturgy, bringing order from chaos with a mellow “Let it be…” (Gen. 1). It’s a God whose feet touch the earth and who walks with humanity hand-in-hand in the “breezy part of the day” (Gen. 2-3). 

How incredible that our ancestors in the faith patched this story together not in a time of peace and prosperity but while fettered and bridled under the watchful eye of oppressive overlords.

The first image we have of God is God as creator. And we are made in God’s image and likeness. My Jesuit brothers and I hope the small offering that is this interactive art retreat is something you can do around the hearth of your own home, to inspire calm and comfort, and engender your own creative playfulness in this time of unusual stress. We hope it prompts reflection on your own story and will serve as a gentle reminder to keep sharing with others that grand, sacred tale of how we came to be, who we are, and whose we are, captivity or quarantine notwithstanding. 

So, we invite you to find some paper, perhaps a pencil or markers, and participate in Drawn into Friendship: An Interactive Art Retreat.

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Photo provided by the author.

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