1.19.20 … making the most of my time on earth …

2020 Grace Episcopal Women’s Retreat-Montreat NC, Sharon Garlough Brown, Table 13, Maude as in Harold and Maude, When I am old I shall … , Table 13:

There’s a poem entitled, “When I Am An Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple” … ,

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.

And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves

And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired

And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells

And run my stick along the public railings

And make up for the sobriety of my youth.

I shall go out in my slippers in the rain

And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens

And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat

And eat three pounds of sausages at a go

Or only bread and pickle for a week

And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry

And pay our rent and not swear in the street

And set a good example for the children.

We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practise a little now?

So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised

When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

And this weekend I experienced a “when I am old, I shall…” adventure. I did something I never imagined I would do last weekend, I invited myself to another church’s women’s retreat,and Grace Episcopal Church of Gainesville GA graciously allowed me and my sister to come, and my sister and I went together and had a fabulous time.

We sat at Table 13 and fell in love with Gail, our leader, Clarissa, Tina, Amy and Caryl. We loved the talks given by Sharon Garlough Brown, the liturgical structure of the episcopal worship, the gentle sharing at our table and the sense of beauty and awe that enveloped the retreat in this annual winter mountain weekend of this authentic group of women.

I laughed that I might become a “Maude” and just go to women’s church retreats (rather than funerals).

“At another stranger’s funeral service, Harold meets Maude, a 79-year-old woman who shares Harold’s hobby of attending funerals. He is entranced by her quirky outlook on life, which is bright and excessively carefree in contrast with his morbidity. The pair form a bond and Maude shows Harold the pleasures of art and music (including how to play banjo), and teaches him how to make “the most of his time on earth”.”

So why did my sister and I invite ourselves to this retreat by this church at this place on this weekend?

Several years ago, Elizabeth Musser, a childhood friend, a missionary and Christian writer, encouraged me to read the Christian fiction of Sharon Garlough Brown. She knew I would like her work because she incorporates spiritual practices within her fiction. Elizabeth knew that I was a advocate and practitioner of labyrinth walking as a spiritual practice. In Sharon’s first published book, “Sensible Shoes,” she encourages and provides direction for utilizing a labyrinth as a spiritual practice. I have read and thoroughly enjoyed Sensible Shoes and each of the other books in the four part series. This review gives you a good description of her Sensible Shoes Series: [Sponsored] Sharon Garlough Brown—Traveling Deeper Into The Heart Of God | Family Fiction

Last summer, Brown published a new book, “Shades of Light.” This book is difficult and inspiring. I loved it, my sister loved it, my friends have loved it. My sister used the study guide with a small group to really get into the book, Vincent Van Gogh’s works and the spiritual practice of visio divina that it describes and uses within the fictional story.

Here are a few reviews of this book, one by Elizabeth Musser the childhood friend referenced above:

“This novel skillfully tackles the dark topics of depression and suicide as well as the often misguided way Christians treat mental illness. It asks the hard questions such as how one should support a loved one who deals with this disease and what to do when our best intentions are ineffective in providing help and solace. Beautiful and haunting, Shades of Light is a heart-wrenching and necessary read that ultimately offers hope.” (Elizabeth Musser, author of The Long Highway Home)

“Sharon Garlough Brown uses the vulnerable, sensitive, compassionate, and creative character of Wren to sympathetically immerse the reader into her valiant struggles of coping with depression and anxiety. With Wren’s deep insights into the life of Vincent van Gogh, we are invited to participate in the illuminating potential of visio divina to experience the comforting aspects of Vincent’s art. Sharon succeeds in revealing what hides beneath the surface of the two wounded and kindred spirits―Wren and Vincent―namely, their compassion and their spiritual and intellectual depth. This is a book that compels us to be more compassionate and less judgmental.” (Carol A. Berry, lecturer, author of Learning from Henri Nouwen and Vincent van Gogh: A Portrait of the Compassionate Life)

So, as a part of my turning 60 “when I am old I shall … just ask because the worst thing they can do is say no” attitude, I asked if my sister and I could come. And the stars aligned (great speaker at winter weekend before my birthday in the NC mountains near my home at a Presbyterian retreat center that I love) and Grace Episcopal said yes!

My sister and I arrived and we are assigned Table 13 … little irony there … And we must sit with these women for three days. This could have been really bad or really good. You guessed it … REALLY good.

The theme of the retreat was “Behold and Be Held.” So what did Sharon Brown talk about …

1. Behold: beholding the presence of God. What does it mean to behold?

2. Fear: people struggle with people-pleasing, perfectionism and shame

3. Beloved: what does it mean to know ourselves as God‘s beloved? Extravagantly steadfastly loved! Accepting that love.

4. Rest: practice slowing down and resting rather than always being busy.

5. Spiritual Practices: drudgery? Scarcity v abundance. Rest …

6. Images of God: in responding to the question “who do you say I am?“ you realize that your right answers about who God is based on the images of God that often come from our childhood and family of origin and that these images can be distorted in ways that we are not aware of. Prodigal Son story … extravagant grace. Does grace, steadfast love, faithfulness, generosity inform our picture of God? Jesus is our corrective lens.

7. Lament: God gives us permission to lament and he also gives us a way to lament as found in the Psalms.

And in between and at meals, I learned about grandchildren and families of origin and mutual friends and new friends … it was glorious.


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