I always loved a good slumber party when I was a kid. The unlimited unhealthy snacks, eardrum-splitting music and endless giggling held enormous charm to my 13-year-old self. But it was the element of “naughtiness” that really appealed to me. The rumors of spiked punch and illicit visits by boys. The silly games, risqué jokes and secrets shared at midnight. I still like all those things and find an outlet for them at retreats for Mormon women. (Okay, no spiked punch. And these days, there’s a firm No Boys Allowed sign tacked to the door). Mormon women have a long history of retreats in New England, Utah, Colorado, and the Midwest. I go each June to the Rocky Mountain Retreat in Colorado. (Anybody’s welcome to join us, by the way. Check it out at rockymountainretreat.org. Our retreat, like the others, has all the elements of a really good slumber party. We’ve got tables laden with chocolate kisses, red licorice and potato chips. We stay up late and laugh and play games. We also hike and spend time soaking in the local hot springs.But there’s more. We have great speakers, who have ranged from Barbara Smith to Chieko Okazaki to Peggy Fletcher Stack. This year Claudia Bushman is coming. We sing spirituals, folks songs, and hymns in three-part harmony and on occasion we make “crafts” that would never make the cut for enrichment night (don’t ask). Mostly, though, we talk. We say the things that we can’t say in Relief Society. We talk about marriage and kids and jobs and sex. We talk about things that make us angry and ways we feel disenfranchised. We talk about the exciting places we’ve traveled and the wanderings still ahead of us. We talk about our dreams and failures, our goals and disappointments. Heady stuff.Every year I wonder why so many women feel the need to go to a retreat. Part of the answer is obvious – retreats allow us to nourish friendships that often languish during the busy-ness of regular life. It’s a wonderful getaway, an estrogen fest that is coordinated, planned and attended by women, without a priesthood leader in sight.
But, it goes beyond that. Many of us feel permission to be our real selves while we’re hanging out in that cabin with like-minded souls, wearing our blue jeans and gazing at the spectacular mountains … or groves of New England timbers or a Midwestern lake. Why is this? What’s different from our usual Sundays when we wear our floral dresses and heels? Why do regular circles within the church feel unsafe for so many? Or do they?
When you come down to it, do grown-up women just need a good slumber party . . . or is there something else going on?