Mental Health

An Opportunity For Self-Care

by Rev . Dr. Angela Yarber

Several years ago, I was pastor of a welcoming and affirming church. As a queer clergywoman, one would think 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.

Enter a non-profit retreat center that catered to activists and artists. 

After a three-day retreat filled with self-care and soul-nourishment, 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.” Between discrimination, minority stress, and microaggressions, it is no secret that those of us in the queer community are in need of self-care.

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 a queer person cares for one’s self, 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 sides of the project have been a monthly part of Believe Out Loud 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, but more on that later).

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 woke queer folks 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.

Among these seven holy women, four are queer and the remaining three are allies who remind us of the importance of intersectionality. A queer Midrash of the creation story subverts traditional understandings of Lilith. Both Isadora Duncan and Frida Kahlo had loving and intimate relationships with women and men. And Pauli Murray could well be the patron saint of Christian queers.

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.

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.

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 my beloved queer community may find opportunities for self-care in the meantime. Plus, there’s no jetlag!

Artwork by Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber