Wistful Guilt

Recently, I’ve made a decision not to attend an annual sewing retreat that has been the fountain from which I filled my creative bucket for the last seven years. My decision was nearly a year in the making, and while I feel quite centered about it, I’m experiencing a wistful guilt the closer it gets to the retreat date in early February. Whether writing poetry, sewing wearable art, creating handmade books, or composing mixed media collages, making art in community is one of my all-time favorite things to do.  This community has been about the inspiration, encouragement, and wide ranging creativity of others that invited me to become more than I imagined I could be. Year after year.

So why not this year? The work I’m called to, that weaves together art, healing and transformation, needs water from another fountain at the moment. But I feel a bit guilty choosing not to be with the women who have meant so much to me, and have been so influential in my life.  Yesterday, a friend introduced me to a Portuguese word that’s been helpful. Although hard to adequately translate, the word saudade was once described as “the love that remains” or “the love that stays” after someone , or something, is gone. Saudade is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being, but now triggers other, sometimes complex,  senses. It creates a wistfulness, or a sense of presence in the midst of absence. That’s why I think I’ll be OK not attending the retreat this year. Despite the reality that I will miss this year’s opportunity to be creative with them, I, nevertheless, carry their presence with me in the midst of my absence from this particular community.

I carry with me the presence of Diane’s “what more could you do?” and Marcy’s “big YES!” I carry with me the internalized presence of the energy in the room, all our shared stories, the conversation and laughter over meals, and the inspired creativity and lunacy lasting late into the evening. I carry with me the presence of the willingness of others to share ideas, observations, encouragement, praise, and supplies. I carry with me the presence of each person I’ve had the pleasure of meeting over the last seven years, and the pleasure of our continued conversation on a chatlist. I carry with me the presence of the profound influence so many have had on my life as an artist. So while I’ll be absent from this year’s retreat, the “love that stays” will be a presence with me. And I trust that for some attending this year’s retreat, they will sense my presence even though I am absent. 

Have you every felt “wistful guilt” about not continuing to be part of a beloved group or community? How have you continued to feel their presence in the midst of absence?  What are the things you carry with you that speak of presence in absence – your love that stays?

I’ll look forward to your comments! For those of you unfamiliar with how to leave a comment, scroll a little further down until you see the Leave a Reply box. The rest is easy.

Click on the image above for a larger view of Jazz, a small wall hanging made at the 2009 retreat. Private collection.


11 comments to Wistful Guilt

  • Maria

    Saudade, a term that fits a week of learning how to think, feel, and express differently…in a modest setting filled with wonderful minds, hearts, thoughts and feelings from women gathered from far and wide. The ideas…and approaches to life…that I learned in that setting will walk through life with my feet and heart. A kindred connection, bound by God’s beauty in words and images, took place that I will always cherish and that informs who I am and what I do today, and I pray, for always. Deepest gratitude…and a heart filled with saudade remains for you, dear Lynne!

  • Deanna J Bowling

    The question that came to mind when I was reading this earlier is the motivation behind the denial of getting together with a group of one kind or another who feeds you. It sounds like Lynne, that you know what you need, and are following through.

  • Lynne

    Maria, thanks for your lovely reflection on a special week for many of us!

  • Stephenie Thomas

    Is jazz a feng shui nightmare? Or, along with the straight lines required, can there be room for surprise – a breaking in of joy? I hope so.

    Looking at your piece, “Jazz,” I see a broken back. Ironically, I love the movement here. So, it’s not the horror of a severed spinal column that I am taking in – but a breaking of rigidity. I feel freedom – even in the midst of, say, big city traffic. “Jazz” is a lifting up of the spirit.

    I love your choice of colors here! In fact, I think this piece might be my favorite of all I’ve seen you do. I envision you nearly in Heaven, or at least nearer to your Creator, as you created this. Of course you would feel torn not attending your sewing retreat this year! Yet, I love the gift of the word “Saudade” in relation to that. No one can take this love from you.

    I am reminded of Donald Miller’s “Author’s Note” at the beginning of *Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality*:

    I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.

    After that I liked jazz music.

    Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.

    I used to not like God because God didn’t resolve. But that was before any of this happened.

  • Karen

    “Saudade,” is a helpful word for me in this season. In a big loss, to focus on the love that remains and to recollect the experiences that brought pleasure and goodness, is to me, a way of gratitude. Recently I have been avoiding the ‘feelings’ over the loss of a friendship (a friend of both my husband and mine) of many years. This loss is complicated even more by the reality that this person isn’t dying, isn’t disappearing from the planet, but is moving in a direction that is closing doors, removing the context that has been central to our shared experiences. With what I call a major “life shift” the opportunities for experiencing friendship in ways we have all enjoyed will be fewer, perhaps will be gone. So I look to ‘saudade,’ wrapping the images and memories of many fine years with the very real love that remains. I am grateful for that staying love. It helps me face the feelings of loss, let go of the past, and keep the love that doesn’t need to go completely away. Saudade brings my gratitude to accompany loss.

  • Kathleen O'Brien

    Saudade will be a word, a feeling to embrace, with gratitude and reverence. I so appreciate love that has been given, unconditionally and joyfully. Rememberances of goodness and pleasure.
    It also speaks to me of change, change that while it can sad and induce longing, can also be something pleasurable and way to let the new in, a way to let different breath breathe into your life and open you to new experiences, all the while, the previous experiences help sustain you and keep you in the collective love.
    I know, I will miss you on the journey this year, but I also know, I have you in my heart and hear your voice encouraging me on my artistic journey. For that, I’m forever grateful and thankful.
    And thankful for this blog, so that I can continue to hear and see more from you and get my “fix”!

  • cynthia thomas

    lynne–i will feel saudade for you during dol. you have had a very big influence in my creative process, both in my art & in the process of (re)creating my life. thank for this gift. btw, i’m still evolving, as i should be. one of my dreams may be coming to fruition. i’ll fill you in if/when it’s realized. i’m trying to patiently wait on god.

    i remember you working on jazz & was struck by your patient & steady progress as you worked on it. cynthia

  • Cristine Goldberg

    Lynne, I think of saudades as an intense longing for – not just homesickness – for something. If I remember correctly, I think the term came from the days when Portugal burst into the Indian Ocean area in the era of colonial domination. The sailors were gone for months under terrible conditions and they developed this longing for home. A famous Portuguese writer/poet coined the term during that time. Anyway, the trivia does not lessen the meaning of the term and my Brazilian friends always say that they are having saudades for home. I understand that completely and am looking forward to a trip both there and DOL. 🙂 As most of the posters note, we need different things at different times and we draw from various sources. We cannot do everything, be everywhere, and be all to everyone. Who is it that said, “Do your best, with what you have, where you are.” Regards, Cristine

  • Beautiful thoughts Lynne – thank you for sharing. We are pulled in so many different directions in our lives, sometimes it is hard (and time-consuming!) to discern the right place to be or put our energy. I struggle often wtih this! DOL is indeed a special place and gathering of special women. ALl of us who have attended carry the experience in our hearts. Blessings!


  • Love the blog, Lynne!

    Wistful guilt – yeah, I feel it about churches that I have served and not longer attend. When I hear of events in Batlimore and Ventura, I feel a wistful guilt about no longer being in a community that I loved and still love. As with you, I carry with me memories and I seek to continue relationships with some.

    I also seek to allow those memories to inform how I experience what I’m doing presently. I find that when I allow the memories to inform my present actions, it seems like those relationships impact me today and I feel close to those in the past. Had that experience this week in a worshp visioning meeting as we consider adding art work to our walls for a sermon series on John 10. I gave thanks for my memories at Eastminster and working with folks like Lynne, Dan, Barbara, Christina and then enjoyed the people in front of me at Monte Vista.


  • Deanna J Bowling

    Following on what Tom Stephen said, I learned a great deal when we at EPC were loosing and gaining a variety of people in the pulpit.

    I had first felt a lot of guilt about accepting another pastor after loosing Dan and Tom. Then I thought about widows who marry again. The thing I came up with (to paraphrase because I never wrote it down in black in white so that I could quote it), was that accepting a second source of love does not negate the source of the first love. Instead it shows great strength in being open enough to love again.

    The other is as I said when Jacki and Gil were getting ready to leave, that the bond of love is not broken by geography. To me, Tom, Dan, Esther, etc., and many others who have cycled through EPC are just as much my brothers and sisters in Christ as they were when serving at EPC

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