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Book Review: Wings of the Wild Bird

Pauline Le Bel gives her thoughts on the book by Kathi Bentall and Margaret McAvity
Wild Bird book cover print

Rivendell Retreat Centre has had a special place in my heart for many years. The ringing of the 5 o’clock bell calling one to prayer, the gatherings at Christmas, and, especially, the silent retreats I’ve attended have all contributed to my spiritual life. When Kathi Bentall spoke to me about the book she and Margaret McAvity were writing to explain their retreat process, I knew I wanted to read Wings of the Wild Bird.

Rivendell opened its doors in 2002, and Kathi and Margaret felt summoned to offer silent retreats to journey into the unknown. “A time,” they write, “where we can breathe more deeply, where our sense of wonder is awakened, where we can face our own discomfort, and transform it so that we can become more fully our authentic selves.”

They wanted to provide a safe and welcoming space for retreatants, “following an emergent design process that invites us to take risks and discern along the way.”

“Emergent design,” as they explain, “weaves the individual experience into the collective.” It is a creative process that recognizes that groups are dynamic, and community is always evolving. “Each community gathering can inform the individual journey, and at the same time, the whole community can be enriched by each individual’s insights.”

Reading Wings of the Wild Bird, stirred in me poignant memories of Rivendell retreats. Days of gradual deepening into silence, time for self-reflection, leading to moments of clarity, my entire world slowing down. I gratefully recall the uplifting music, the provocative poetry, the beauty of the centre table, and the dramatic storytelling as Kathi and Margaret followed the evolving themes that arose from the gathered community.

“The book is not a how-to manual in retreat leadership,” they write, “but rather an invitation to trust the emergent design process.” They describe how this creative approach works, with examples from particular retreats, as well as some of the challenges involved in the planning process, stories of transformational experiences, and an abundance of helpful resources.

Many thanks to Kathi and Margaret for writing Wings of a Wild Bird. I highly recommend the book for anyone designing sacred gatherings and wishing to understand the process of emergent design. Although these retreats are based in Christian theology, there is room for all kinds of spiritual thought and experience.

From the beautiful cover of the book to the images inside, we are reminded of the familiar V-formation of wild geese heading south. “The flapping of each bird’s wings creates an uplift for those who are following,” giving the geese a far greater range than a bird flying on its own.

“We are more likely to stay aloft if we do not try to fly alone.”

Wings of the Wild Bird is available at Rivendell, Phoenix and The Hearth.