When you write, what do you need most?

A room of one’s own?

My room at Whidbey Island in the Farmhouse.



An enchanted forest?


Great food?


A friend?




Wait! What?

You need electricity to write?

The fourteen of us who were lucky enough to attend the workshop Writing Spirit, Writing Faith: A Week with Mary Potter were blessed by all of the above — with a twist.

A storm knocked off electricity for more than three of our five full days together.

Our Whidbey Institute hosts performed magic, providing our most basic needs and much good cheer as we waited for the lights and the heat to come back on. Some of us wrote poems. Others worked on novels, sermons, essays. We learned, chanted, ate challah, and told stories.

We wrote by candlelight. We wrote with pens on paper.

We found inner light and we loved it.

When the lights came back on, we went a little crazy.


In this season of light, surrounded by so much darkness, where do you go to find inner light? Would love to hear your stories below!

Shirley Showalter


  1. Elfrieda Schroeder on December 9, 2015 at 10:52 pm

    While decorating our Christmas tree this year I somehow longed for the childhood joy I used to feel at this time of year. “Where had the magic gone?” I wondered. I remembered a German Christmas Carol we always sang: “Alle Jahre wieder.” On impulse I googled it and up came a beautiful rendition, taking me right back to those wonderful days. Not only that carol, but many other German carols, one after another came automatically. I realized what a wonderful gift my mother had given us by singing these songs with us, and I got my Christmas joy back again!

  2. Shirley Showalter on December 10, 2015 at 10:27 am

    Oh, Elfrieda. Thank you for this gift. I am listening to children singing and watching the candle flicker on this Alle Jahre wieder video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOuRLRszIcc. It must have brought tears to your eyes to have your childhood memories made so vividly clear aurally and visually.

    You passed along the joy restored to you. May many others feel the power of love.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  3. Janet Givens on December 10, 2015 at 11:59 am

    How timely this is, Shirley. I’d just sat down to listen to old (as in OLD) Christmas albums, hoping to get into the spirit of the time by listening to what I once listened to at this time. A part of me just wants to hide away at this often too hectic time. Your post, particularly the first comment, from Elfreida, has helped tremendously. Thank you both.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 10, 2015 at 12:07 pm

      Thanks, Janet. I think all of us can be overwhelmed with all of the activity at Christmas/Hannukah time. And this year, with terrible international and national news stories bombarding us, the light seems harder than ever to find.

      I’m glad you took some quiet time to try to find it. And I’m even more appreciative of Elfrieda’s response. I think I’ll go click on that link again! Merry Christmas.

  4. Linda Gartz on December 10, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    Looks absolutely lovely — peaceful and surrounded by nature and like-minded writers. Love it.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 10, 2015 at 12:10 pm

      It was a lovely week, Linda. So many memories and photos. I had a hard time picking just a few. Another participant, Karen Jolly, wrote her own blog post with poems and photos. If you ever get a chance to apply for one of the Collegeville programs, it’s worth a try!

      Happy holidays to you and yours. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Laurie Buchanan on December 10, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    Shirley — You shine from the inside, out; glowing on everyone around you.

    I absolutely love this: “We wrote by candlelight. We wrote with pens on paper.
    We found inner light and we loved it.”

    One of the items on my bucket list includes staying at Hedgebrook (where women writers author change) on Whidbey Island (http://www.hedgebrook.org).

    You asked: “In this season of light, surrounded by so much darkness, where do you go to find inner light?”

    My short answer is divine love.

    I pulled this excerpt from my manuscript as my long answer:

    “Another area of tremendous interest to me is the optical occurrence in certain gemstones such as moonstone, opal, and labradorite. It’s known as adularescence—a distinctive shimmering or glow that appears to come from below the surface but is caused by diffraction of light.

    “This phenomenon is impossible in the absence of light. The shimmering takes place only when light is present. Similarly, it’s my desire to live in a heart-based manner that radiates the presence of inner light—divine love.”

  6. Shirley Showalter on December 10, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    Thank you so much for bringing light to this space and to many others via your words, Laurie. And thank you for the compliment. It helps to know we are a band of sisters desiring the same thing.

    Thanks too for the link to Hedgebrook. You are the second writer friend who mentioned these residencies to me. Looks wonderful. “Not a retreat. An advance.”

    Divine love, so near to us if we only take a moment to wonder. “oh oh tidings of wonder and joy!” to you and your family.

  7. Merril Smith on December 10, 2015 at 5:39 pm

    What a lovely post, Shirley, and the comments, too. I especially loved Elfrieda’s above. I love how she was transported by the melodies of Christmas past. And you and your friends–eating challah (I love it!) and finding your inner light by candle light.

    Lately, I seem to be finding a strange peace in writing poetry in my mind as I engage actively in spin class. Not all the time, but sometimes. . .very weird. 🙂

    • Shirley Showalter on December 11, 2015 at 11:28 am

      I love the thought of poetry forming in your heart and mind as you move your body. What an exciting way to experience inner light. And the results you share on your blog reveal the depth of your experience.

      The group was one you would have enjoyed. The topic was spirituality and writing and the we had many varieties of Christians, a Jewish teacher, and one rabbi in the room. Sounds like the beginning of a joke. 🙂 It was quite wonderful.

  8. April Yamasaki on December 10, 2015 at 11:03 pm

    I love this post, Shirley – wonderful pictures of your inspiring weekend and a reminder that while we may experience darkness at times, the darkness cannot overcome the light. May that light continue to shine brightly for you!

    • Shirley Showalter on December 11, 2015 at 11:31 am

      Great to see you here again, April. It’s been too long since I checked in on you, also.

      I imagine you revisit this theme at every Advent and Christmas season. As do I. With each one, the darkness seems deeper. Thank God, the Light never goes out. Blessings as you prepare words for your congregation in the flesh and online.

  9. melodie davis on December 11, 2015 at 6:57 am

    I’m glad I peeked in at this to find out about these writer workshops. I’d heard of Collegeville Institute of course, but was fuzzy on how their workshops worked. Another “some day” idea. Which is a nice future light to keep me inspired and working!

    • Shirley Showalter on December 11, 2015 at 11:35 am

      Hi Melodie, I’m glad you peeked in. I would encourage you to put Collegeville on your list of places to check out when you see the opportunity on your schedule. Such a powerful mission. I hope to get to the St. John University (MN) campus some day also. Most of their workshops and residencies take place there.

      A future light indeed!

  10. Marian Beaman on December 11, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    You reflect both inner and outer light here beautifully. Here’s a follow-up to your comment on my blog post: I just finished talking to Kitsa after more than fifty years. During our phone conversation she mentioned that she is head of the Hellenic culture initiative at her church, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in NC, still shining her light brightly.

    “This little light of mine” is a message that we need to shout from the rooftops. I sense that those who are filled with divine light are observing the dire need and beginning to step up to the challenge.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 13, 2015 at 4:43 pm

      How wonderful, Marian. So glad you and Kitsa connected again. I can only imagine the lights in an Orthodox church. I am sure they are beautiful in this season.

      Yes, as the darkness around us increases, we need to look for the Light, in our faith and in each other.

      You certainly let yours shine! Merry Christmas.

  11. Kathleen Friesen on December 11, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    Yes, the light lives within each of us as testified to by the heart made visible in the posts above, stirring cherished memories and dreams for the future. This season, I am filled with gratitude for dear friends and family members who hold the light for me when I cannot see it. Jan Richardson’s blessing says it so well:

    Blessed Are You Who Bear the Light

    Blessed are you
    who bear the light
    in unbearable times,
    who testify
    to its endurance
    amid the unendurable,
    who bear witness
    to its persistence
    when everything seems
    in shadow
    and grief.

    Blessed are you
    in whom
    the light lives,
    in whom
    the brightness blazes—
    your heart
    a chapel,
    an altar where
    in the deepest night
    can be seen
    the fire that
    shines forth in you
    in unaccountable faith
    in stubborn hope
    in love that illumines
    every broken thing
    it finds.

    – Jan Richardson

    May peace and love bring hope to you and your family this Advent season.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 13, 2015 at 4:47 pm

      I love this poem, Kathleen! Thank you for sharing it here. Reminds me of the Japanese practice of mending pots (broken things) with gold and making them more beautiful than they were before.

      Sending a blessing for Light to illumine all the broken places in our dear groaning world — and for a special measure for you and yours.

  12. Marylin Warner on December 11, 2015 at 10:25 pm

    One of my best writing retreats, Shirley, was held at Mt. St. Francis retreat center when they over scheduled. The writers were in half of the building, while the Colorado Harpists Society practiced, rehearsed, and held their sessions in the other half. It turned out to be a wonderful meeting of creative minds.
    On the last evening, the harpists had taken poems from two of the writers and one of the harpists read them aloud as the others played the background.
    It was a delightful, creative and encouraging time.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 13, 2015 at 4:51 pm

      How lovely that serendipitous sound must have seemed to you then, Marylin, and now again in your memory. All the arts help us experience light. It seems that the stimulation of one sense easily resonates with another.

      When people ask how retreats help us, we each have testimonials. The artist benefits as much from community with others as from individual inspiration in a beautiful setting.

      Wishing you much beauty in this season of light. Maybe time to put on some harp music?

  13. Elaine Mansfield on December 12, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    Shirley, I’ve gone to writing classes with the same woman for 6 years. Once every autumn, she turns out the lights and we write by candlelight. It accesses a different wilder level. I don’t mind if the lights go out when someone else takes care of it, but I’ve had a few too many breakdowns around here since I began writing about the descent of the goddess (a Sumerian story about going into darkness, facing mortality, and then rebirth. Wonderful talented people who kept you fed and warm and building community around a campfire. The most basic human needs filled so you can turn to fellowship and words. Sounds wonderful.

  14. Shirley Showalter on December 13, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    Elaine, what a great practice. After this experience, I might try replicating your class ritual here with my fireplace and favorite pens and paper.

    Yes, there is also something archetypal about the descent into darkness and the underworld. Demeter and Persephone come to mind also.

    You would enjoy a workshop like this one I think. Have you ever applied for a residency?

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