I have been privileged to join a group of great adult educators authoring a book just published called Spiritulaity, Mythopoesis & Learning. It is an academic book in the field of adult transformative education edited by Peter Willis et al from the University of South Australia. It is about how people make and remake meaning through imaginative ways of using personal narrative. It explores how this area of education theory intersects with spiritulaity. The book has a number of chapters where authors explore their use of these processes in practice. My chapter explores how personal story and imaginative narrative tools are used with a gospel spirituality of detachment and healing to transform grief and loss after an abortion. This is explored in the context of the Rachel's Vineyard Healing Retreat.
Copies of the book will be available soon from Post Pressed http://www.postpressed.com.au/
Just a small taste of my chapter:
"The retreat uses storytelling and Christian symbols to empower those caught in the trap of grief and guilt. When I was first introduced to the Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat in 2000, I was intrigued by the enthusiasm of the participants and the clarity of their healing. As a retreat facilitator, I was struck by the transformative power of storytelling in the retreat process. I remember hearing participants recall on the Saturday the horror of the abortion event, what led to the abortion and its effects, with predictable expressions of hopelessness, pain, low self-esteem, and inability to find healing, forgiveness and love. Through the retreat process there was almost equal certainty that their stories of fear and loss would be transformed into stories that held out hope for change, recognition of the reality of what had happened and a chance for healing from the debilitating grief and loss that had been a constant part of their lives, bearing scars of varying degrees. I became interested in what brought about that change. The storytelling process has the power to help participants see the story again from a new perspective; recognise who is suffering and in need of healing; and rewrite the story in a way that is more truthful and helpful. They now hear themselves describing the event and its effects with greater compassion for themselves and others in their story.
Many events occur in our lives that disorient us. It might be falling in love, a car accident, taking an overseas holiday or losing a loved one. These events can have a transforming effect in our lives or leave us overwhelmed and unable to function, even if only temporarily. In transformative learning theory, these events can be referred to as the ‘disorienting dilemma’ (Mezirow 1991). The disorienting dilemma can be used to help someone grow or it can be a missed opportunity for growth. Many participants on Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats report that they found the abortion experience to be a time of diminishment rather than growth. Those working in this ministry have been privileged to facilitate processes that can turn that around and allow the disorienting dilemma to become a moment of growth.
The learning/healing approach used in the Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats is one of mutual nurturing and storytelling. This learning takes place through a series of processes that identify a more connected way of imagining and understanding the story, its veracity, its actors and its aftermath in the participant’s life. This is achieved through mutual respect for the participants’ personal stories and practices, enabling their story to intersect with some key Christian rituals and symbolic practices. These include reading stories from the gospel with a meditation and ritual that help bring the story into the participants’ lives and various imaginative prayer practices including guided meditation, music and song.
We also use the Catholic sacraments of anointing of the sick, reconciliation and Eucharist. Anointing of the sick emphasises healing from grief and loss. The sacrament of reconciliation focuses on healing guilt, not just around the abortion itself, but around the ongoing poor self-image that seems so common among participants. This sacrament invites participants to embrace a God who still loves them no matter what and we then invite them to re-imagine themselves as good, loving and lovable, which we consider a key element in the meaning of this sacrament. It also symbolises a re-connection with the church, which for some is extremely important as they feel alienated from their faith. The Eucharist is also a sign of re-establishing ties with the community from which they feel alienated. In the Catholic symbolic story world, receiving communion is the ultimate sign of acceptance, something they feel they have lost through their past actions." (p230-231)