I’ve shared before that the non-profit my wife and I created, the Holy Women Icons Project, is in the process of creating a small intersectionally ecofeminist retreat center on Hawai’i Island. The Holy Women Icons Project seeks to empower marginalized women by telling the stories of revolutionary holy women through art, writing, and special events.
Both the art and writing side of the project have been a monthly part of Feminism and Religion since 2012 as I feature the story of one of my holy women icons, along with the icon I’ve painted depicting them. As I paint revolutionary holy women from history, scripture, and myth, I also write about their lives; in addition to painting and writing, the bold witness of these women has inspired and grounded many of the retreats I lead in churches, seminaries, women’s and LGBTQ centers. Now the time has come for us to try and fulfill our dream of creating a home for this work, a little off-grid retreat center where people can come on retreat to create, sustain, and empower (by paying to attend or receiving scholarships from grants, but more on that later).
We were thrilled to film the first step of this process—building our family’s “tiny house”—with the television show Tiny House Nation. Since then, we’ve been working tirelessly to get our acre of land ready to build more housing for those on retreat, and to find funding sources to make it possible. Anyone who runs a non-profit or works in sustainable construction knows this is no easy (or affordable) task. We’re realizing that this far-flung dream may take longer than we’d envisioned due to lack of funding. We have some fabulous monthly patrons through Patreon, and we’d surely welcome more tax-deductible patronage or donations! Other than this, though, it’s the scrappy work of my wife and I to try and make this whole intersectionally-ecofeminist-off-grid-Hawai’i-retreat-thing a reality.
As we learn more about building, organize groups and individuals to come work on the land as service projects, and continue to paint and write, we also recognize that the work of leading retreats simply can’t wait until we have buildings to house them. Yes, I’ll keep leading Holy Women Icon Retreats and Feminist and Queer Spirituality Retreats when I’m invited to churches, seminaries, and other organizations to do so. But we also want to expand our reach. Enter the internet.
Online retreats are a growing and affordable trend for those who are maxed out, overscheduled, unable to travel, and yet yearning for spiritual sustenance to sustain them. They’re also great for introverts! I’ve led a couple online retreats in the past, but want to turn to you, the FAR community, to listen and learn about what kind of online retreats would be life-giving for you.
Typically I’ve grouped Holy Women Icons into subgroups that naturally lend themselves to retreat-like formats: Goddesses, Biblical Women, Queer Women, Christian Women, Revolutionary Women of History, or Grieving Women. Similarly, there are seasons and topics that overlap with many of the Holy Women, such as Lenten Retreats, Interfaith Retreats, Self- Care Retreats, or Activism Retreats. In online retreats like these, participants would receive a daily 20 minute retreat featuring one woman from within the subgrouping per day.
Each daily retreat includes a full-color image of the holy woman featured, a brief essay describing her, questions for contemplation, guided writing exercises, a ritual exercise, and an action step. It’s much like the retreats I lead in person, but at your own pace and in your own space. You could even do the retreat in your jammies while sipping tea and listening to your favorite music to set the mood.
So, now is when I’d love to hear from you! Would an online retreat interest you? Does 15-20 minutes per day sound like a good amount of time? What kind of groupings of Holy Women Icons would be most life-giving? Are there elements other than images, essay, questions for contemplation, guided writing exercises, a ritual exercise, and an action step that you’d like included? Might your church, seminary, or organization have interest in doing one of these retreats as individuals and then gathering as a group once you’ve completed it to have a time of discussion and reflection? How many days or weeks make the most sense for an online retreat series? What is a fair price to charge for such online retreats? How would you market these retreats to reach the most spiritually-inclined feminists?
I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to comment here, on the Holy Women Icon Project’s Facebook or Twitter Page, or by contacting me directly through the Holy Women Icons Project. While I can’t wait to extend hospitality at our retreat center in Hawai’i, I look forward to sharing the inspiring and empowering work of these revolutionary holy women through virtual retreats in the meantime. Plus, there’s no jetlag!
Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber is the Founder and Creative Director of the Holy Women Icons Project. She holds a Ph.D. in Art and Religion. A professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, she is the author of seven books. As an author and professional artist, she is creating a retreat center with her wife and child on Hawai’i Island as a part of the Holy Women Icons Project non-profit.