Last weekend I traveled free with points (thanks, Southwest) to Jacksonville, Florida and then drove to the most beautiful of places, St. Simons Island. I had visited there as a child but it was my first adult visit at Epworth by the Sea and I LOVED it. I rode a bike in the mornings, walked a lot, and sat at the pier before the Southern Lights Conference began. Pro tip: if you're traveling solo (especially to an island) and have the space, always arrive early or leave late to offer yourself a little extra soul care and/or processing time.
As a writer, anytime I get to hang out with or meet the people whose books I've read and who impacted my journey, it's a treat. I did not ask for selfies, but I did soak up their every word. Then to meet new-to-me authors and Speakers as I did this past weekend - wow, wow, wow. I'm so glad I made time for this conference. And I took book money to spend - hooray!
Idilia Delio absolutely blew my mind (I realize 'absolutely' is an unnecessary word in this sentence but trust me, it is not). Literally, I think my brain is still processing what I heard, and will be for a long time. She is a Franciscan Sister and American theologian writing and teaching about science, religion, evolution, physics, and neuroscience. You would think she was boring - NOPE. Instead, she was an absolute delight and has tickled my brain in ways I didn't know possible. I cannot wait to read my first of her now 24 books!
The brilliant and healing poetry of Pádraig Ó Tuama, read by Pádraig, made poems come alive for me again, or maybe for the first time. His poetry readings invited us to think without telling us what to think. So I'll be listening to more poems this year and anchor my life with poetry.
I met the very kind and wise Christian ethicist Reggie Williams, and fantastic authors Diana Butler Bass and Brian McLaren (superb people). I heard from some brilliant podcasting theologians Tripp Fuller and Grace Ji-Sun Kim. Unfortunately, there's not enough space here to share all I learned from their sharing. Oh and I connected with delightful attendees, there were a LOT of Methodists at Epworth by the Sea, so I likely would have found some church cousins if I looked long enough.
It was noted to me more than once that I was one of the youngest attendees (even at 48). It hit me during communion as we closed, I was so grateful to be surrounded by older adults. Then an 83-year old retired pastor tapped me on the arm as I waited in that line and said, "God bless you, Whitney." Honestly, I was right at home. I need all these wiser, older people in my life. If you're not flocking to those with at least a couple of decades on you, do it. I'm counting on the exceptional longevity of my grandmothers to trickle into my genes, so I can be one of them one day. There is so much life yet to live!
Nudged by an older wiser mentor, I came to this conference after a full season, on purpose. Stewarding a devotional into the world may not seem like much, but it is. I was nearly empty. As a creator sharing your creation, putting it in front of others can be overwhelming. I knew I was tired and doubted myself as I was packing to leave. But I am thankful I found a way to fill back up. We even meditated as a group, I indeed found my people.
I left that beautiful island with a LOT more knowledge than when I entered it and plenty of soul care too. But I realized a few (okay, four) things in particular that feel important to share:
Thanks to Pádraig, I found this poem, and I've been sitting with it since I left the island. It's not really about leaving an island. Whyte wrote these words about his own poem (below), "There are certain vivid days that live on in the memory, carrying not only the extraordinary images of what occurred but a still growing revelation that is an equally growing introduction to our own future. Such was the day last year on Inishbofin when the silence and the beauty of the place, the singing of good Irish friends in a ruined chapel and a perfect company of people brought a sense of perfection, privilege and forgiveness. I left the island half a shade braver than when I arrived, which is, after all is said and done, all that we need."
"Leaving the Island" by David Whyte
It must have been
the slant of the light,
the sheer cross-grain of rain
against the summer sun,
the way the island appeared
gifted, out of the gleam
and the depth of distance,
so that when you turned
to look again,
the scend of the sea
had carried you on,
under the headland
and into the waiting harbour.
And after the pilgrim lanes,
and the ruined chapel,
the lads singing beneath the window,
and the Corn-Crake calling from
a corner of a field,
after the gull cries and the sea-hush
at the back of the island,
it was the way, standing still
or looking out,
walking or even talking
with others in the evening bar,
holding your drink
and laughing with the rest,
that you realized–part of you
had already dropped to its knees,
to pray, to sing, to look–
to fall in love with everything
and everyone again, that someone
from deep inside you had come out
into the sea-light to raise its hands
and forgive everyone in your short life
you thought you hadn't, and that all along
you had been singing your quiet way
through the rosary of silence
that held their names.
Above all, the way afterwards,
you thought you had left the island
but hadn't, the way you knew
you had gone somewhere
into the shimmering light
and come out again on the tide
as you knew you had to,
as someone who would return
and live in the world again,
a man granted just a glimpse,
a woman granted just a glimpse,
some one half a shade braver,
a standing silhouette in the stern,
holding the rail,
riding the long waves back,
ready for the exile we call a home.
So, now for a few questions:
Whitney R. Simpson
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Whitney R. Simpson
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC