There is a Crack in Everything

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.

-Leonard Cohen

These words are the refrain from Leonard Cohen’s famous song Anthem, published in 1992. I may be one of few people in my age range who does not remember this song from the 90’s, but last Fall I could not get it out of my head. Most notably, these compelling words came with me on a personal retreat I took in October. I didn’t plan it that way, but Spirit doesn’t always follow my plans. I call that Sacred Serendipity.

My retreat was at the Overlook Guesthouse located on the 200+ acres of meadows, woods, trails, streams, and ponds at Dayspring Retreat Farm. This beautiful land is an oasis of nature in the midst of busy Montgomery County, MD – carefully tended by the people who live and serve the property. My theme for this self-guided retreat was Creation and Creativity. “Creation” because I sense Presence and Mystery most powerfully in creation, and I knew we would meet together in the sacred creation of Dayspring. “Creativity” because I wanted to intentionally explore my long-neglected Inner Artist.

To be honest, I wasn’t really sure I had an Inner Artist. Creative? Yes, I’m creative in my own way. But artistic? Definitely not! Matthew Fox in his classic book, Creativity – Where the Divine and the Human Meet, shares a list of reasons why people don’t engage in their creativity. I could relate to most of them – not the least of which are some of the childhood messages of inadequacy that still show up and surprise me many years later! But on retreat, my Inner Artist and I bravely explored and played with the art supplies I brought. And all week I kept hearing the refrain of the song in my head and my heart – Forget your perfect offering, Lorie. Just ring the bell, have a little fun, and let the light in. So, I did!

I created Wisdom Card collages with water colors, carefully selected images, and heart-felt queries to my Inner Artist and my Inner Monk. I wrote haikus. I used soft pastels for the first time in my life during a time of prayer for a specific intention. I colored a mandala – even going outside the lines! I did some writing and then went back and added color to the pages of my journal. There is nothing extraordinary in these simple, contemplative practices. And there was nothing perfect in my offerings, but there was light. And in that light, hope and healing and joy could be seen, and a little Spirit-led fun was had – by both of us, I suspect!

I also realized that the imperfect offerings I was creating — the imperfect art I was making with all its smudges, mistakes, and cracks — not only let in the light, but those cracks also let things out. Things that needed to go and were just looking for a crack to make their exit.

When I wasn’t at my small desk creating or peacefully sitting on my little patio communing with the birds and the resident chipmunks, I was walking the property, immersed in Creation and the early signs of Fall. As I’ve learned to do, I approached some trees slowly that I sensed were inviting me closer and asked their permission to touch them. We had a lovely encounter and I truly feel they enjoyed my recitation of Mary Oliver’s When I Am Among the Trees, one of my favorite poems and now, perhaps, the favorite of a few trees at Dayspring.

Retreats have long been important respites in my over-taxed life, but this one was extra special. As I reflected on it back home, I realized how much of my retreat had been shaped and informed by my experience as a participant and leader in the Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Spiritual Groups & Retreats program of Shalem (TCP). I had created and facilitated a deeply contemplative and meaningful retreat for myself with many of the components we emphasis in TCP: clear intention, authenticity, bathed in prayer and spiritual practices, non-judgmental, Spirit-led, and an awareness of the Holy throughout. Gratitude for Shalem, TCP, and my colleagues past and present, filled my heart and my journal.

As meaningful as TCP has been to me and many others, we have felt called to listen deeply and respond to those inviting us to look at the program through their eyes. We hear the desire for the program to be more accessible and welcoming to all who sense a call to lead contemplative spiritual groups and retreats: younger people challenged by the reality of time, busy families, and finances; people of color looking for more of their cultures and traditions to be represented in the program’s practices, resources, and seminars; mid-life and senior folks who are pondering how to respond more fully to the nagging voices inviting them to ask, “What is mine to do now?”

As we continue to listen, and TCP continues to evolve, we are excited to introduce a new format for the Class of 2025 that includes one in-person residency teamed with class and peer group online sessions. It is our hope that this format will assist in making the program more accessible and more affordable for everyone. This new offering may not be perfect, but I have no doubt that the singing bowl will still ring with a resounding welcome and Light will flow in and out of every crack.

February 02, 2024 by Lorie Conway 2 Comments
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Eric Hoheisel
Eric Hoheisel
2 months ago

Somehow, I also missed that song, Lorie. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. A bit of Sacred Serendipity I suppose! Your reflections are the crack that has let light into my soul today. Remembering with gratitude the time spent with you and our fellow sojourners at Transforming Community…

2 months ago

Just what I needed today. Thank you sharing. I’ve been dissonant in a similar way and neglectful and discounting of my own Inner Artist. I believe this is my ringing bell to get started. Blessings to you


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