"There’s something profound and horrible and unsettling about the intimacy of. . . scriptural images that call us to God.” Those are unusual words coming from an Episcopal priest, but Lauren Winner is an unusual priest. Raised Jewish before converting to Christianity, Winner retains a penchant for wrestling with scripture and embracing the new understandings that come from those biblical encounters. It enriches her faith, and she hopes to share that process with participants at the Women’s Retreat at Lake Junaluska, NC, September 17-19.
Winner is the author of numerous books including Still: Notes on a Mid-faith Crisis, which was named a “Best Book of 2012″ by Publishers Weekly and a 2013 Book Award winner by Christianity Today. Her interest in biblical images of God led to her most recent book, Wearing God, released this year. She has appeared on PBS’s Religion & Ethics Newsweekly and has written for The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World, Publishers Weekly, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today. Winner holds degrees from Duke, Columbia, and Cambridge universities, and currently teaches at Duke Divinity School.
Of all those experiences, Winner holds one out as having shaped her faith more than any: her weekly teaching experiences at a women’s correctional institution. “I don’t claim to speak for or from that community,” she hastened to explain, “but to see those women engage in scripture has changed how I engage with it, and with everyday life.”
This renewed engagement with the everyday is something Winner will share with retreat participants at Lake Junaluska, and an element core to the Christian teachings. “This is Jesus’s method. . . He walks through ordinary life on an ordinary Tuesday and he gloms onto an ordinary scene—a sparrow, a woman and her coins, some guys queuing up to get their paycheck, and he takes that ordinary thing and he says, this ordinary thing is here to teach you who God is and what the kingdom of heaven is like.”
So Winner leads her audiences to examine the ordinary and find, within it, the extraordinary—the open doorway to the divine. “Things in your ordinary life carry God’s invitation to you.” That’s a vital part of Winner’s message to her audiences, particularly women, who tend to be “so busy, so enmeshed in their daily responsibilities of caregiving, career, and other demands” that they need a powerful reminder of the sacred in the midst of their busyness.
In this endeavor, Winner is very like the retreat’s worship leader, singer-songwriter Martha Bassett. Raised on her family farm in West Virginia, Bassett continually looks to the simple and familiar for presence of the divine. “Whenever I perform or lead worship, using my music or familiar songs from secular artists, I always ask God to sing through me, to speak through me. Then I try to get out of the way.”
Bassett’s music career has taken her to stages at Merlefest, the Eastern Music Festival, Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival and concert venues throughout North Carolina and Virginia. She’s opened for Lyle Lovett, Tony Bennett, the Avett Brothers, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Jim Lauderdale, and Chuck Prophet, and even contributed music to the Sony Classics film, “Junebug.” But one thing she didn’t expect was to be a worship planner. Bassett now runs a weekly service called Roots Revival at Centenary United Methodist in Winston-Salem, bringing in believers and nonbelievers alike to hear her pairings of song and meditative scripture. “I believe it’s important to use not just church music, but secular music that people know from their everyday lives—to help them see it in new ways, to see the spirituality there.”
The success of Roots Revival has also provided Bassett with the opportunity to lead musical worship at several conferences over the past three years. “I’ll tell you something: I love it. Conferences with lots of ministers in particular—those people can sing!” She laughed. “In many ways, those experiences really do bless me.”
Women’s retreat participants can expect both organized worship and ample downtime for optional activities such as yoga, one-on-one spiritual guidance sessions, and communal meals. “We are all about encounters,” Winner said. “Encounters with self, with neighbor, with God, and with scripture.”
Lake Junaluska is nestled in the Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina and is home to the World Headquarters of The United Methodist Church. Retreat participants can stay at The Terrace, a centrally located and newly renovated hotel, and enjoy the numerous on site outdoor activities including swimming, canoeing, and golf. Registration fees for this non-denominational retreat include meals. Package rates including 1.0 CEU Credit and two nights lodging are $337 per person single occupancy, $273 per person double occupancy, and $140 commuter rate. Childcare is available. For more information and to register for the Women’s Retreat visit www.lakejunaluska.com/signature-series or contact the Lake Junaluska Registrar at 828.454.6682 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center