A group of  perfectly imperfect women spent thirty-six hours together  in what one woman called “the Twilight Zone” – an altered state of community where instead of complaining about what’s wrong with us, we proclaimed the good news of God’s love and goodness that is deeper than our sin and brokenness.

With that starting point, we spent a remarkable weekend journeying through Edwina Gately’s Soul Sister’s version of the story of the woman caught in adultery.  The religious leaders wanted to stone her to death.  They were filled with accusation and judgment.

We each came with our own versions of being “accused” of not measuring up to someone’s standard for who we should be, how we should look, act, behave.

On Saturday morning we took our stories–the good and the bad–experiences of love, goodness and power,  of accusations we’d absorbed from others’ and of stones we’ve thrown at ourselves– and put them into a community painting.

We splattered, sponged and smeared paint across the canvas.  Some spoke, some cried, some yelled, some silent.

The final piece revealed power, love, pain, humiliation, anger, resentment, joy, beauty–all mingled together.  One artist’s bright blue splatter proclaiming her goodness holding a sister”s red blotch of anger at years of addiction and abuse. The celebratory curvy purple feminine figure now the container for the pain felt by another for her own voluptuousness.

Our canvas revealed the reality of our lives: beauty amidst tears, light in darkness, creativity out of chaos.  We discovered that the fruit of God’s great love expressed in Jesus’ words to the woman–“neither do I condemn you”–comes to us in much the same way that Jesus was born–in the muck, stench and mire of the stable.

We are a community of women living with the perfectly imperfect parts of ourselves and each other as we abide in this great love of God revealed in Jesus.  His encounter with the woman caught in adultery became our story too.  We threw the stones thrown at us, the stones we throw at ourselves and each other, into the ocean on Saturday night.  And then went out for Gelato!

There’s more to the story.  You can read it at my retreat partner Kristin’s “post retreat thoughts” on her website, a beautiful mess. Kristin is a remarkable young woman with a passion to empower other women in authentic living and self-care.  Be sure to check out her many excellent suggestions for self-care and recovery from perfectionism while you are there.

Join us for our next retreat: The Soul & Sexuality: moving from shame to grace.  October 8-10, 2010 at Casa de Maria in Montecito.

(Photos by Megan Lundgren  and Kristin Ritzau)