Retreats and Evening Programs for Poetry and Spiritual Growth
It’s not easy to make time to recall that each of us is a human being, not a “human doing.” Kim Langley’s interactive poetry and spiritual direction programs and retreats create some nourishing space in your spiritual life. These sessions are inclusive in nature, and sensitivity and respect are always offered. Kim’s own roots are in the Episcopal and Catholic churches. She has a master’s degree in religious education from Duquesne University, and is a certified pastoral minister. She taught the courses Introduction to the Bible and Women in Scripture for 15 years at a Lutheran University (Capitol University), and she has completed a 2 year Spiritual Director’s certification program (the Haden Institute) in Niagara Falls, Canada with congregational leaders and spiritual companions from many denominations. Haden has deepened her love for group spiritual direction, using poetry as the springboard for the “deeper dive” that so many seekers are looking for. She appreciates each participant who arrived at a retreat saying “I don’t know anything about poetry”…and who departed saying “When can we do this again!?”
Based on the topic, and your group’s needs, your experience may include:
- Poetry readings and discussion
- Sharing and stories
- Private journaling
- Writing prompts (followed by optional sharing)
- Guided imagery
- Visual meditation
- Silence and self-reflection
- Nature walks
- Music and art
Kim offers the topics below, which can be structured as evening sessions, half-day mini-retreats, or full-day or weekend retreats.
In addition, WordSpa ministries can select poems for a customized program on a theme of your choosing, or a combination of multiple listed themes.
Poems of Lent and Easter
This is a gathering of prayer and reflection, using poems of great beauty and depth that are still accessible to anyone wishing to spend time going within. The process includes prayer, lectio divina with the poems, and a take-home packet of poetic “gems” to carry with you through Lent, inspiring more reflection at home. You’ll discover, as one past participant did, that praying with poetry is “spiritually exhilarating!”
“O break my heart; break it victorious God,
That life’s eternal well may flash abroad;
O let it break as when the captive trees,
Breaking cold bonds, regain their liberties;
And as thought’s sacred grove to life is springing,
Be joys, like birds, their hope, Thy victory singing.”
-Thomas Toke Lynch (The Rivulet, 1871)
We Wait in Joyful Hope: Poems of Advent and Christmas
In this gathering to explore and celebrate the sacred spaces of Advent and Christmas, we go within with poets as our guides. We’ll take on the spirit of our forefather in faith, Meister Eckhart, who reflected on how “We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.” The process includes prayer, lectio divina with the poems, and a take-home packet of poetic “gems” to carry with you through Advent and Christmas, inspiring more reflection at home.
“I have received many emails from participants at the Advent Prayer Day, and they all expressed what a wonderful presentation you gave with your poems to prepare us for Advent.”
“It was a very reflective afternoon – Kim was amazing with the poetry.”
Participant from the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine
Poems in Winter of Endurance and Celebration
“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” –Albert Camus
“Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius.” –Pietro Aretino, 15th century poet
“Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart.” –Victor Hugo
Poets over the ages have proffered plenty of advice for the winter months. This gathering of poetry and prayer, offers comforting and uplifting reflections for finding warmth, light and optimism during the cold winter months. And the poems? Exceptional!
Praying with Poetry: Lectio Divina and the Joy of Diving Deep
If a group has never experienced a spiritual poetry circle, they may choose this 2 to 3 hour session as a way to “test the waters”. Lectio Divina is the traditional name given to mindful reading, and involves a three part, meditative method that lends itself perfectly to the act of discovering our deeper selves through poetry. In this session, participants allow themselves to lean in to the process of lectio, and encounter some exceptional poems for sharing today and reflection tomorrow. This is a session in which people typically enter saying “I don’t know anything about poetry!” and depart saying “When can we do this again?”
“Watch, now, how I start the day / in happiness, in kindness.”
– Mary Oliver, “Why I Wake Early”
Wabi Sabi: The Love of Things Impermanent and Imperfect
This circle theme sweeps up participants in the wabi sabi aesthetic and immerses us in the opportunity to relish both the sweet and the flawed nature of the inspirited life. Wabi-sabi is a fascinating part of the Japanese world view and is centered on the acceptance of transience. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. One of the poems shared in this circle is a rare beauty by Hafiz that fosters beautiful reflection. Here it is:
“Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly.
Let it cut more deep.
Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My need of God
– Hafiz, “My Eyes So Soft”
Finding the Sacred in Poetry
Explore a selection of poems that lend themselves to a prayerful appointment with the Holy. Expanding our idea of the sacred and even the silly, we spend time with poets who have captured something through their craft that our hearts have yearned to say. The readings are rich, the sharing is blessed. From “Having Come This Far” by James Broughton:
“Now I give praise and thanks
for what could not be avoided
and for every foolhardy choice
I cherish my wounds and their cures
and the sweet enervations of bliss
My book is an open life”
The Angle of Repose
Taking its inspiration from a term more known to engineers than to seekers and poetry lovers, the angle of repose is “The maximum angle to the horizontal at which rocks, soil, etc. will remain without sliding”. The selection of poems for this circle has been very well received, and their focus is on those moments in life that are defining moments, moments when something hangs in the balance and choices are hard, and comfort is dear. From The Buddha’s Last Instruction:
“Make of yourself a light”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning…
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of
Poetry and the Spirituality of Personal Endeavor
We all do work everyday…paid work and unpaid work, gardening, making repairs, child care, cooking, organizing or cleaning, helping the needy, mentoring, the list can seem endless. What we don’t do everyday is think about WHY we work. What is right livelihood, and what constitutes a meaningful use of time in retirement or in leisure? Join in a stimulating “deeper dive” into work and human endeavors, with a prayerful exploration of those activities that take up a large percentage of our lives, and are enriched by our thoughtful reflection. Here’s part of a poem by Marge Piercy called “To Be of Use”:
“Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.”
Poetry and the Spirituality of Transformation
Rilke said “I live my life in growing orbits / which move out over the things of the world.” How we all long for the spiritual alchemy that will deliver us from certain parts of ourselves that are hard to embrace! The safety and support of the spiritual poetry circle provide time to honor our longing for wholeness. Through carefully selected poems, we are invited to meet the god who longs for our transformation even more than we do long for it ourselves. Here’s a selection from one poem that generates beautiful reflection—“Kindness” by Palestinian poet Naomi Shihab Nye:
“You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness
that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day
to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.”
Meeting God Through Rumi’s Wisdom
Rumi recollects…”the sweetness that comes after grief. / The hurt you embrace / becomes joy. / Call it to your arms where it can change.” Come into the spiritual poetry circle and dance with the Sufi poet Rumi, whose way of embracing the sacred has a wide appeal and a deep well of challenge and support for each of us.
“Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.”
Keep Me Green: Meeting God in Nature
This circle offers time and sacred space to meet God in the glory of creation…to remember the wonder we’re part of, and the holy that we’re drawn to. Celebrate the invitation with mindful reading and sharing of poems that are… “the doorway / into thanks, and a silence in which / another voice may speak.” -Mary Oliver (Thirst)
“All the forces of nature
want you to open,
Their gentle nudge carries behind it
the force of a flash flood.
Why make a cell your home
when the door is unlocked
and the garden is waiting for you?”
– Maya Spector in “Jailbreak”.
A Woman is Like a Teabag: Poems for Grace and Feminine Energy
Fun and easy, profound and poignant, this circle looks at the feminine on the spiritual path. Here’s a passage from What I Learned from my Mother by Julia Kasdorf: “ I learned from my mother how to love /the living, to have plenty of vases on hand / in case you have to rush to the hospital /with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants /still stuck to the buds.” Mindful reading of poems both serious and silly will open up the soul in a new way.
One circle declared this a favorite poem of the day: It’s “God Says Yes to Me” by Kaylin Hought:
“…she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
and is it even OK if I don’t paragraph my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes.”
Celtic Spirituality and Poetry
This is a specially planned circle gathering, and includes a brief film shot on the beautiful island of Iona, introducing us to the landscapes, the prayer and poetry of a rich tradition. This life-affirming circle of poems is especially lovely to dive into in anticipation of, or in celebration of, the seasons of spring or summer. Here’s an excerpt from a favorite poem called “The Peace of Wild Things” from this gathering:
” I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
Dawn to Dusk: Leaps of Faith
This circle gathers around the theme of risks, loving, learning, losing. Every courageously lived life will have leaps of faith, and together the circle shares experiences of missing the net, and landing in the arms of the Divine. A passage that engendered much discussion from” Blessing the Boats” by Lucille Clifton was this:
“may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that.”
100 Kinds of Silence: In the Circle with Billy Collins
This Circle was first designed as a source of winter refreshment and holy laughter. Billy Collin’s wry humor provides a kind of back door into sacred space, and this session might be just the antidote to the February-March bleakness that participants are longing for. Proving that neither prayer nor poetry need be always solemn to be uplifting, we’ll wrap Billy Collin’s poems around us like a welcoming blanket. From Questions About Angels:
“Of all the questions you might want to ask
about angels, the only one you hear
is how many can dance on the head of a pin.
No curiosity about how they pass the eternal time
besides circling the Throne chanting in Latin
or delivering a crust of bread to a hermit on earth
or guiding and boy and girl across a rickety wooden bridge.”
Come to the circle, with your good questions about Angels…and all else as well!
Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers
This circle gathers with a tip of the hat to Anne Lamott who offers this in her best-selling spiritual book: “If I were going to begin practicing the presence of God for the first time today, it would help to begin by admitting the three most terrible truths of our existence: that we are so ruined, and so loved, and in charge of so little.” That might be enough to meditate on for a circle session, but by the end of her nourishing book, she has offered us this thought to chew on: “So prayer is our sometimes real selves trying to communicate with the Real, with Truth, with the Light. It is us reaching out to be heard, hoping to be found by a light and warmth in the world, instead of darkness and cold. Even mushrooms respond to light – I suppose they blink their mushroomy eyes, like the rest of us.” In between these 2 quotes, we sink into mindful readings of poets who capture the inspired spirit of Help, Thanks, Wow. Here’s a favorite from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “God’s Grandeur:”
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil”
… When the circle gathers, indeed it will!
The Lovely Imperfect: Growing a Grateful Heart
Whether you are already a poetry lover or a seeker who is open to a new spiritual avenue, this collection of poetry themed around deepening our gratitude is going to feel comfortable and engaging. Experience poetry as a kind of prayer and reflection that opens the heart in a fresh way.
Among other wonders of our lives, we are alive
with one another, we walk here
in the light of this unlikely world
that isn’t ours for long.
May we spend generously
the time we are given.
– From “A Prayer Among Friends”, by John Daniel
Welcome Sorrow, and Welcome Joy
So often we pursue joy fiercely, and run from sorrow. Yet recent research as well as our own experiences tell us that joy and sorrow are inseparable, reflections in the mirror that is a full life well lived. Come join us for a lively discussion of poems that will console our spirits, challenge our minds, and expand our hearts.
The men sprawl near the baler,
too tired to leave the field.
They talk and smoke,
and the tips of their cigarettes
blaze like small roses
in the night air. (It arrived
and settled among them
before they were aware.)
These things happen … the soul’s bliss
and suffering are bound together
like the grasses …
– From “Twilight: After Haying” by Jane Kenyon