Wednesday, March 28, 2007

First Salon

Sunday we presented a salon at Oak's house in the Mission. "We" being ICT, Independent Craft Teachers, a small group of seasoned Reclaiming priestesses who also happen to be Feri, although it's the Reclaiming part we're concerned with in these salons. Well, not the last one, which I was unable to attend.

We had a goodly group of 17 people total, including Oak, Anne, Thorn, Medusa, Fern and me. I was especially pleased that my pals Urania and Denise could make it. Most of the others I hadn't met before, as it seems they're more recently part of the larger community and since I've not been teaching for several years, I've only had rare occasions to meet newer folks.

We started with a round of who we were vis-a-vis Reclaiming. We spanned from a few months to nearly 30 years (me).

People said they had a great time and really enjoyed the conversation. The organizers in particular were pleased with how it unfolded.

One of my favorite things to do is talk with Pagans about Paganism and Pagandom. I seem to have a huge appetite for that kind of discussion. I feel strongly that it's up to us as Pagans, as an NRM (new religious movement), to define ourselves. If we don't do it, then journalists and reporters and sociologists will. So when I can get such an opportunity, I jump for it. That's one of the reasons I just love the annual CCPS and PantheaCon and Pagan festivals.

Maybe I'm getting jaded, but it seems to me that we Pagans keep having the same conversations over and over and over again. Or maybe it's just that I have so many of them that they seem to be the same. I was jotting notes on topics people mentioned during the first round that I had something to say about. Of course, this was a salon, not a lecture by Macha, so I behaved myself and didn't hog all the discussion time. But I sure wanted to. I was bursting with things to say, opinions, reflections, anecdotes, bits of lore, word meanings and connotations.

Guess I should jump on this and ride it.

Fern and Oak offer their happy experiences.

By way of notes, I took this photo of the whiteboard with ideas, words, connections.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Interfaith Retreat Day

On Monday Patrick and I attended a day-long retreat sponsored on a quarterly basis by the Marin Interfaith Council and held at beautiful Santa Sabina Center here in San Rafael.

There were two teachers. One was Rabbi Lavey Derby from Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon a sixth-generation direct descendent of noted Chassidic Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditche. The other was the Rev. Carol Saysette, a graduate of PSR and retired UCC minister who presently teaches at Lloyd Center of San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, about four miles from here.

Lavey began "We are all in Egypt," which I take to mean that we are looking to be somewhere else, we are in the dark, we don't feel at home, we are seekers. He spoke of the Hebrew word shalom, which he says means "coming to a place of wholeness, a place of redemption, an end to suffering, a life of heart." I had thought it meant simply "peace," like salem and salaam; I guess the meanings are concordant. He mentioned that the Yiddish word, now common in American English, kvetch (one of my favorites) literally means to "squeeze through."

When Carol spoke, she added that Gethsemane, the garden where Jesus went to pray before his last Passover meal, means "wine press," or a place where one is squeezed, put under pressure, forced to confront whatever matters are at hand.

After the first hour of teaching, we were to keep silent. I think the importance of allowing a time of solemn silence, a time for unhurried reflection, is much neglected in our society, and I was glad to get it. This was not meditiation in the Zen sense of emptying one's mind; you could think about things. You just couldn't engage in communication with others. It was great for me! I know it was hard for Patrick because he's so engaging -- and I'm no shrink when it comes to talking myself -- but I know he also found value in the exercise.

We were free to wander the courtyard and gardens and the walking paths beyond. The day was mild and sunny and welcoming. We maintained silence until after lunch. Dining in silence Santa Sabina's old refectory evoked a sense of what the life of a contemplative is like every day.

After lunch, when the floor was opened for discussion, we found that, regardless of religion, we were inclined to reach deep beneath our differences.

We considered Destiny and Choice. Carol asked if there was ever a wrong choice. A Christian woman offered that when she was graduated from high school, just at the end of the Great Depression and the beginning of World War II, she took a job with the military in a section that was making chemical weaponry. She was making $30 a week while her contemporaries just out of high school were lucky to be making $3 a week. As she became more familiar with the work she was helping to do, she felt bad. She quit and instead enlisted in the military herself to help fight Fascism. She felt she'd made a wrong choice in accepting the job making chemical weaponry.

I said that I didn't think there was necessarily such a thing as a 'wrong' choice, but there are choices which are unconstructive or self-destructive. To which Carol added that the Jesuits ask, when confronting choice, "is it life-enhancing?" I like that.

Lavey referred to a Chassidic rabbi who likened life (as in incarnation) to a fragmenting or to shards of broken glass that we spend our lives reassembling. That when we are born, that divinity within us is shattered and it is up to us to recover it. (I hope I'm doing his talk justice in paraphrasing it from this distance in time.)

Patrick offered that we are somewhat like a jigsaw puzzle found in a thrift store, one where the box top is missing yet we have all the pieces. Then our process of reassembling the pieces into a complete picture is more difficult because we have no finished image to guide us.

Sherna, a Baha'i member, explained that in her religion they view life as a weaving, where the warp is destiny and the threads, colors and textures we select to weave the woof are choice. Such a wonderful metaphor! How would our human brains ever be able to understand complex matters without metaphor?

This is the second MIC retreat I've attended, the last being a couple years ago. I enjoy them and intend to do others.