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.