Self-Care is a Feminist Issue: Holy Women Icons Project’s 7-Day Online Self-Care Retreat by Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber


Several years ago, I was pastor of a welcoming and affirming church. As a queer clergywoman, I thought that such a place would be the perfect place to flourish and thrive as a pastor. And yet, because of heterosexist and sexist microaggressions, I found myself anxious, depressed, and in need of physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual care.

After a three-day retreat filled with self-care and soul-nourishment at a non-profit retreat center that catered to activists and artists , I felt as though a tremendous weight was lifted off my shoulders, that I could focus and find clarity in my vocation. Pausing to care for myself gave me the courage to leave my toxic job and live more fully into my calling. This experience taught me the vital importance of self-care.

Womanist Audre Lorde once proclaimed, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Because caring for the self violates the patriarchal norms that traditionally dictate that you should be the one caring for everyone else. Yes, everyone needs to pause to care for the self. But oppressed minorities have a particular need for self-care, not simply as a way of refreshing oneself in order to do the work of justice, but as a vital part of the work of social justice. Because caring for yourself in a society—and a church—that wishes for you to do otherwise is an act of political warfare. When feminists care for themselves, it is a radical act of soul redemption, spirit rejuvenation, and a political and spiritual act of acknowledging your holy and innate self-worth. In case anyone has told you that you are not worthy, let me reassure you. You are worthy. And you deserve to care for yourself.

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, queer, 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 as I feature the story of one of my holy women icons, along with the icon I’ve painted depicting them. 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 (by paying to attend or receiving scholarships from grants).

There’s no doubt that going to a retreat in a beautiful location can offer respite, inspiration, and empowerment. But not everyone has the time or money for such retreats. Since the Holy Women Icons Project believes that everyone should have access to respite, inspiration, and empowerment, we’re creating a variety of online retreats accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Drawing from the lives, legends, and legacies of revolutionary holy women, these retreats cover a range of topics and time frames. All can be accessed directly from your computer or mobile device. Not surprisingly, the first online retreat we’re offering is a 7-Day Self Care-Retreat.

This online Self-Care Retreat is the opportunity for feminists to care for themselves for a change. To pause. Relish. Learn. Grow. Care. Because you deserve to be cared for. In this 7-Day Self Care-Retreat, Lilith teaches us to care enough to leave; Pauli Murray teaches us to care enough to hope; Isadora Duncan teaches us to care for our body; Frida Kahlo teaches us to care for our reality; Virginia Woolf teaches us to care for our space; Anna Julia Cooper teaches us to care for our voice; and Sojourner Truth teaches us to care enough to resist. Seven revolutionary women offer us seven different ways to care for ourselves.

Retreatants receive a 20 minute daily online retreat for the allotted days. Each day includes an image of an icon depicting the woman featured, a brief essay describing her life, questions for contemplation, a guided writing exercise, inspirational quote, ritual exercise, an action step, and a blessing. The only supplies retreatants need are an internet connection, paper, and pen (though you can use markers or colored pencils if you wish). While 20 minutes is the intended amount of time, some exercises provide opportunities to linger longer if you choose. Plus, once registered, you can begin the retreat whenever it’s most convenient for you, and if you miss a day, you can easily go back and pick up where you left off.

It’s much like the retreats I lead in person, but you can take part 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. 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 so that you may find opportunities for self-care in the meantime. Plus, there’s no jetlag!

So, pause long enough to care for yourself because you deserve to be cared for. Doing so is nothing short of revolution.

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. 

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Categories: Art, Community, Faith, Feminism and Religion, General, Healing, meditations, Prayer, Ritual, sustainability

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10 replies

  1. Charles Hartshorne was fond of saying that the golden rule to love your neighbor as yourself implies that you love yourself too. How is it that Christian teachings so often encourage us to love our neighbor at the expense of ourselves? We hear so much about self-giving and even self-sacrificial love, but so very little about loving our selves. This is why your work is so important. And good for you in realizing that you didn’t have to sacrifice your self as a Christian minister subject to aggression from your parishioners. Blessed be!

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    • Thanks for these kind words. I was fortunate to have more kind and thoughtful parishioners through outline my tenure as pastor, but there’s no denying the freedom, care, and holiness that I’ve felt since leaving the church. I agree that you simply cannot care well for others if you do not care for yourself.

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  2. “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

    Oh, I am glad to see these words in print. Self care precedes loving others because Love in the largest sense of the word can’t happen unless we extend that feeling to include ourselves. And indeed it is a radical act to love oneself in this woman -hating culture. I think your work is outstanding…

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  3. Beautiful! I needed this reminder so much today. Thank you, Angela.

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  4. I agree that women are often socialized to equate self-care with selfishness. As I’ve been writing about Goddess Spirituality and self-care, I’ve taken note of the many intersections between our spiritual lives and the rest of who we are as people. Our minds, our bodies, our spirits and our emotions all rely on respite and retreat for healthy functioning. Love what you are doing!

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  5. Like Michelle Foster, I also needed this reminder today. Thanks to you for the reminder, Angela, of just how valuable caring for ourself is. And thanks for listing the specific teachings that the seven revolutionary women that you refer to can offer us.

    I plan on sending a link on.

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