Grace, what is grace? “It droppeth as the gentle rain from Heaven upon the earth beneath.” It has many meanings, secular and religious. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “pleasing quality, charm, ease and refinement of movement, action, expression or manner.” “By the grace of God” implies a divine gift which is bestowed freely and is unmerited, thereby placing the recipient in a state of grace. It comes from the Latin root meaning ‘favour, dear or pleasing.’
I recently attended a Candala of Grace retreat at a retreat centre in Somerset. I went primarily because my friend Lizzie was facilitating it and I wanted to support her. I should add that I was suffering from the tail end of a cold, and therefore not in the best space. But I was full of expectancy.
A Candala is an illuminated art form designed to light up our world. Built as an installation with positive intent, it is based on the circle and incorporates light and symbolic materials.
There were six of us on the retreat, we were an eclectic mix: a businessman, an interfaith minister, a former royal airforce woman, a carer, a former secretary and NATO employee, and an investment banker, who also ran healing courses. The course was being run by Lizzie, writer and poet, and Jehanne, cellist. Lizzie is also an artist and originator of the Candala art form.
We sat around a simple installation, a single tea light on a white circle surrounded by a circle of clay beads, on a white square. It was simple and beautiful. We listened to the rich, warm tones of the cello as Jehanne played two Bach cello suites, leading us into a contemplative silence.
We were then invited to share our intention for the day. The word ‘learn’ came into my mind. I was there to learn whatever the day might bring forth for me.
Lizzie told us a little about the Candala concept, its philosophy and values, and her exploration of it after her own experience of spiritual enlightenment. It was designed as a reflective space for our times and a multi-sensory experience for the exploration and embodiment of Grace, which was our theme for the day.
Our first practice was the making of the prayer beads, we were each given a small piece of clay to roll into a ball, a pin with which to make a hole in the ball, and we then placed our bead into an individual dish with our name on it, and these were put aside. Talking about them, Lizzie told us that the traditional number of beads in different cultures was nearly always one hundred and eight. Very interesting.
After having been led into a guided meditation, we were invited to share our own definition of what the word ‘grace’ meant to us, which elicited a number of responses. I was still undecided at this stage.
Another sensory experience followed. We each chose a stone and a feather, felt the hardness, smoothness, weight of the stone, felt the softness, lightness of the feather.
We were given three ‘Illuminating Reflections’ to ponder. One of these I found particularly healing.
Time for some movement, and we were invited to move around the room in a circle, moving mindfully, aware of our feet on the ground, our breathing, and finally ending with some guided movement, sweeping our arms up and down, bringing energy into our bodies.
Seated once more, we then shared with a partner what we were experiencing. I remembered an episode in my early years when I had decided to become a Roman Catholic. I went to see a priest, told my mother, who was horrified, saying ‘there had never been a Catholic in family’, returning to the priest to say that I had changed my mind, and his saying to me that he hoped ‘Grace would not depart from me for ever.’ We both laughed at this story. I did not feel it had.
Lizzie told us about the Mexican artist, Frieda Kahlo, who overcame her own physical disabilities with great courage to become a renowned painter, and Pavlova, the Russian dancer, with her extraordinary powers of levitation and evocation of a dying swan. Jehanne played the St Saens cello composition of the Dying Swan, and we were invited to listen with our eyes closed and then to move our hands in response to the music. I found this very beautiful.
The day came to a close with a final ritual incorporating the beads which we had made earlier. We were handed a golden thread and we each placed our bead onto it, which was then placed around an antique gold decorative tripod holding a white sphere. This symbolised surrounding our beloved planet in a Circle of Grace. As we stood round this symbol Lizzie asked each one of us for a word to express the day. The word ‘cooking’ had already come to mind. I felt that we had been engaged in an alchemical process, making a magic broth, literally turning water into wine.
We all sat down and the day was brought to a close and we shared what the day had meant to us. I myself felt renewed and rejuvenated, fully restored to health. I expressed my gratitude to Lizzie and Jehanne.
There was a general consensus that we had created a sacred space, a place of light which would spread out into this dysfunctional world of ours. There was a wonderful sense of peace and harmony between us.
I finally understood what the Candala meant and the importance of symbols. Every detail of the day had been integral to the whole, nothing had been out of place, everything had meaning.
Reflecting on the diversity, talents, energy and vibration of all the participants, it seemed to me that we had created a strong, harmonic sound to be sent out into the universe.
In some magical way, we had all of us been touched by grace.