The strangest thing about this experience of The Academy for Spiritual Formation thus far is how familiar it feels. I've never been here before. I've never met any of these people. And more importantly, I've never been on a Christian spiritual retreat before. But I felt at home the moment I arrived.
Conversation over our first meal together oscillated between retreatants catching up after time apart, and a deep dive into questions like "what does healing mean" (and can death be a kind of healing?) It felt just like gathering with a group of rabbi friends, except that the jewelry tended toward crosses rather than the hamsas or v'ahavta amulets I usually see.
The retreatants have come together in community to grow as spiritual beings and to rekindle relationships forged in the crucible of emotionally intense retreat-time. I know what that's like. And I recognize in the facilitating team the conscious intention of creating and maintaining the sacred container of retreat-time for the spiritual growth of those who take part. I know what that's like, too.
On our first evening after dinner and before evening prayer we gathered for "Covenant Groups," as we will do nightly. Covenant Groups are an opportunity to process the day and what it has awakened in each of us. We are encouraged to be present, to listen deeply, to resist the urge to "fix" when people share difficult truths, and to enter together into holy listening.
When I read the guidelines, I smiled in recognition. In the Jewish Renewal community in which my formation as כלי קודש / kli kodesh (a "holy vessel") took place, we have very similar nightly groups during our week-long retreats and our two-year training programs. We call them "Mishpacha Groups" -- משפחה / mishpacha being the Hebrew word for family.
Many years ago when my mother joined me at a Ruach ha'Aretz retreat (to care for my son while I was in classes), I encouraged her to join a mishpacha group made up of folks who weren't clergy students. I wanted her to have people other than me with whom she could process her experience there. I remember one day she came back from her mishpacha group, and said to me with some wonderment, "I think everybody here is a spiritual seeker!" I think that story comes to mind now because it's why I feel immediately at home at the Academy for Spiritual Formation: everyone here is a spiritual seeker.
Of course there are differences in our language, our theologies, our modes of worship. And I will inevitably bump into those over the course of this week, and not always comfortably. But we're all engaged in the ongoing work of spiritual formation. To my delight, that means that in some ways, coming here feels like coming home. As someone who cares deeply about the life of the spirit, I'm thirsty to be around others who care as I do. It's a joy to be in community with fellow seekers as they walk their own path -- different from, but often intersecting with (or overlapping with, or perhaps running parallel to) my own.