The season of Advent is marked by expectation and longing. We await the season of Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Christ. Our hearts yearn for connection to friends, family, community, church, and God as we invite hope, peace, joy, and love into our hearts and minds. Using the arts can help us quiet ourselves for the season, and an Advent arts retreat can offer space for moments of connection, reflection, and renewal in the middle of a busy season.
To host an Advent arts retreat, you’ll need some art and writing supplies, chairs, tables, refreshments, a chime or bell, selected spiritual and creative readings, and two gathering spaces.
During Advent, invite the community to a relaxing, self-guided afternoon with various forms of artistic prayer and opportunities for both fellowship and solitude. People may come and go or stay for the full experience. Attendees may bring their favorite art and craft supplies from home or use the supplies provided.
In planning for the day, it is important to have two distinct areas: a contemplative space and a space to engage. If it is available to you, choose two areas in close proximity to one another to make it easy for participants to go between the two spaces as the Spirit moves them.
1 | The Engagement Space
The engagement space is where your retreat begins and ends. Here you will welcome both the friend and the stranger. This is the space for talking, fellowship, and art-making. This is the space where Advent music plays in the background to get you in the Spirit. Chairs are set in a circle for the opening and closing meditations and prayer. Three work tables are set up: one for a signature art project (such as prayer beads, painted river rock icons, or glass devotional prayer candles), one for free work to create in whatever chosen artistic medium, and one for temporarily displaying work completed during the retreat. Set a fourth table with light refreshments to sustain everyone through their creative processes.
Stock the room with a few assorted art supplies, like:
- the 5P’s: pencils, paper, paint, oil paint markers, and pastels
- adult coloring sheets, mandalas, and printed finger labyrinths
- collage and decoupage materials: Mod Podge, scissors, glue sticks, tissue paper, scrapbook paper, sheet music, old magazines, ribbons, and twine
You don’t have to spend a lot of money on art supplies. Like the humble manger in the Christmas story, we know that simple materials can be used to create something beautiful.
2 | The Contemplative Space
The contemplative space is a quiet space for moments of solitude and reflection. A church’s sanctuary will do well, but even a classroom, hall, or outdoor grove can be transformed into a contemplative space. Encourage everyone to enter (and remain) in silence for the duration of their time in this space as they write, create, pray, think, or rest.
To prepare the room, add fresh candles to a votive rack or set a single candle and flowers on a table. Be sure to have some empty chairs, pews, or pillows for comfortable prayer.
In the space, create an area for journaling with pens and blank journals or writing paper, and leave a few inspirational readings like prayer books, Bibles, devotionals, or printed instructions on prayer practices like Lectio Divina. You might also add creative writing prompts like the books Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg or Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.
Another option is to lay out a portable canvas labyrinth on the floor. Labyrinths offer the opportunity to physically journey. Some labyrinth resources include The Labyrinth Company and Canvas Labyrinths.
The Flow: A Sample Agenda
- 2:00 – Arrive
- 2:10 – Welcome and invite everyone into the circle in the engagement space
- 2:15 – Outline the day and spaces; open with a scripture reading from Luke, a poem, and prayer
- 2:30 – Chime to begin self-guided creative reflection in both spaces
- 5:00 – Chime to end the time of creative reflection
- 5:10 – Take snack and bio break
- 5:20 – Invite everyone back into the circle to share about their work and reflections
- 5:45 – Close with poetry and sending prayer
- 6:00 – Depart
By slowing down with meditative, contemplative, and creative handiwork, we calm our spirits and allow the seeds of hope, peace, joy, and love to take root as we prepare our hearts and minds to welcome Christ.
Photos in header and article are by Simone Monique Barnes