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First Annual Sophia's Gathering: My Thoughts

by Jessawhy

It’s been two weeks since our inaugural Sophia’s Gathering. Here’s a taste of what happened and my thoughts on the weekend.

Dovetailing nicely with the Claremont Women’s Conference (summary here), some of us Exponent bloggers and a few close friends enjoyed a small retreat in the mountains near Lake Arrowhead, California. During our stay, we named the retreat Sophia’s Gathering, referring to the Goddess of Wisdom. We hope to have this event annually and watch it grow every year.

At first, our discussions centered on the topics of the conference and the issues that surfaced. While it’s hard for me to remember the details of the conversations, I absolutely remember how I felt. I felt accepted and loved. I also felt hopeful. So many amazing women that I admired were bravely walking their own spiritual paths and it gave me strength to walk mine.

(I must add that all the discussions were greatly enhanced by the food, thanks to EmilyCC and a few helpers. I never knew vegetarianism could be so delicious and cheap!)

Though many of us knew each other, a few did not so we all introduced ourselves and what we’ve been doing over the last year. We also sang a little here and there with the hep of a songbook Caroline so generously compiled.

One of my favorite aspects of the retreat was the diversity of age and experience. The Exponent blog has been a bit shallow in the area of generational diversity, but as a result of Sophia’s Gathering, it looks like that will change.

During the weekend, I treasured seeing older women who have successfully navigated the challenges of raising young children while dealing with Mormon feminist issues. These women have strength, peace, and volumes of experience to share.

Mraynes shared beautiful and personal testimony of her connection with the feminine divine during her session. She opened the door for a discussion of how each of us experiences the divine and the peace or disappointment that can come when we do or don’t find connection with God. Again, having older women attend opened my eyes to the narrowness of my current experiences. Even though I may not have been touched by the hand of  God in recent memory, it’s possible for this to happen in my life, because I have much of it yet to live. That hope, and the stories of my sisters, lifted me beyond my own angst over my lack of connection to God.

Caroline guided us through a discussion on feminist ethics, including helping us understand the traditional and care framework for moral decision making. We read the one-act play “Trifles” and talked about how we would have acted in a similar ethical dilemma. (If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it, although you may not have anyone as dramatic as G to read the part of the Sheriff).

With a lot of planning and foresight, Amy led the group through an hour of poetry readings. She assembled books ahead of time, with submissions from participants, and we discussed our favorite poems and poets. I must admit that I am not a poetry person, but I learned a lot during that session and look forward to the new bi-monthly Exponent feature on poetry.

Jana helped us focus and meditate during a gentle yoga session. I found myself smiling through the entire meditation, it was a little surreal. It’s been a long time since I was just smiling for no apparent reason. I found a lot of love and joy in this session.

Our keynote address was by my friend and fellow-ward member, Sue. She discussed the Pauline epistles and how different readings and translations give them a much more feminist reading. Additionally, she passed around photos from a trip to Turkey that she and her feminist friends had taken where they discovered the Goddess of antiquity. I was moved by her stories and the images of women learning, dancing, sharing, and embracing. Now I really want to go to Turkey.

After the keynote, Brooke took over as MC for our talent show, reading amusing poems in between acts. Since our group was small, we only had a few who showcased their talents. EmilyCC brought a Diet Coke song that a few of us sang (but she wouldn’t let us open the “props” and drink them at the end for fear of wasting the precious liquid). Holly displayed her artistic talent for making jewelry, Zeneida played a fabulous flute piece, and there were those with poetry and other talents.

Oh, and I discovered my previously unknown talent of knitting. I knitted a long orange scarf for Brooke, who will be moving to a much colder place this summer. (Here’s where I admit that I used a loom, so my talent isn’t much compared to all the women who knew how to both knit, AND crochet, and they all have amazing gardens. I tell you, these women do it all!)

At the close of our gathering, a few women, including our own G, shared stories of their own personal spiritual journeys.  These inspiring women are like most of us, with varying origins and a discovery of their own path in life. I was surprised at how much I could relate to each story, despite how different they were from each other.  With remarkable candor, these women shared some of their most personal and private reflections about their relationship with the church and with God.

Honestly, the experiences that I had a Sophia’s Gathering were so much better than I expected. I felt support and sisterhood from women who I admire so much.

So many people helped me put it together, but mostly I want to thank Caroline and EmilyCC for ironing out the details and helping me make decisions. I’m really not an organizer or a leader, so working on a retreat, even a small one like this, was quite a stretch for me. But, I am so glad I did it. I’d like to do it every year and see more women attend who can appreciate the love and support I felt at Sophia’s Gathering.


Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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10 Responses

  1. EmilyCC says:

    You created a fabulous retreat, Jess! I don’t know if it was the smallness or the fact that we just had such a great group, but that retreat felt magical to me–so many connections, such honesty.

    It was a bummer that our East Coast bloggers couldn’t make it. At least we had Heather’s Diet Coke song as a way of channeling her there (thanks, Heather!).

  2. Debra says:

    Wow! This sounds awesome! I wish I had known about it. I would have come!

    Is the Rocky Mountain retreat coming up in May similar at all?

  3. Jessawhy says:

    Yes, the Rocky Mountain retreat is very similar. MRaynes and I went together last year (Jana, Caroline, Amelia, and Brooke were there, too).
    The event was bigger (more like 70) but I think it will be smaller this year. I know they’re working very hard on it.

    EmilyCC, yes, we did miss a lot of our friends and hope that they can come next year. Also, I know we’d love to have new people come so we can make more friends.

  4. Sounds like a wonderful retreat and love the name!

  5. Bree says:

    I love the pictures (and being able to attach faces to the amazing writing). I hope to make it to an exponent retreat one of these days.

  6. Caroline says:

    It was a blast. Thanks for this recap, Jessica, and for all your work planning it.

  7. kmillecam says:

    I WILL be there next year!

  8. Brooke says:

    It really was a terrific weekend. Thanks to all the efforts and sharing of everyone of you that came. There were many people I wish could have been there sharing as well. So rejuvenating and just super duper! I am coming back next year even if I have to cross the whole country to get there.

  9. Holly says:

    Yes, a wonderful weekend. It touched a part of my soul that had started to wither away, but is now blossoming as I associate more and more with you amazing women! Many thanks Jess, Emily for planning and prep, and to all who attended. So nice to meet all of you.

  10. G says:

    hahahaha! love those pics! thanks for the run-down. so good to relive it for a moment again. and thank you thank you thank you jess (and co) for making this happen.

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