I started with a committee meeting of the Dundee Inter Faith crowd, and I don't normally get excited about committee meetings, but this one was really lovely; they made a big fuss over me, and gave me a card, and there was a lot of just catching up with eachother's lives; some of the regular members have become friends (they are between 30 and 50 years older than me, mind).
This reminded me of a long planned Rotary interfaith event. Said event involved more children being consciously cute than is normally to my taste, but it was a well-attended and successful event. And lots more of the interfaith crowd were really happy to see me; I was basically mobbed from the moment I walked in, and as soon as the formal part of the proceedings ended. It made a really lovely way to say goodbye to people.
One of the people there was Maureen, who runs the Scottish Inter Faith Council. She invited me to join her youth interfaith crew for a retreat this weekend. I was a bit unsure of this, as I haven't really been part of that group for over a year, but Maureen assured me they'd be delighted to have me. She didn't underestimate her group; they were incredibly welcoming and seemed genuninely pleased that I was able to join them.
The retreat took place at a place called Newbattle Abbey, which is a thoroughly gorgeous Mediaeval house just outside Edinburgh. It was an absolutely wonderful weekend; I got on extremely well with the group, and we had all kinds of fun as well as some quite profound discussions. It is so good to be plunged back into interfaith again, and to be in a group who have the sense of openness to other people that I treasure above almost everything.
They have come up with a very grandiose vision of moving on beyond tolerance to a true celebration of diversity. I have semantic quibbles with the formulation but the general concept is just fantastic. And they have very good ideas about how to work for this on an educational and practical level. I'm honoured to be even a peripheral part of it.
The social part included things like a walk through they lovely grounds of the college, during which we played poohsticks, had a discussion about women taking leadership roles in religious contexts, swung across the canal on rope swings and breathed in the green smells. And we had a brilliant drumming circle session, during which we were being pretty silly but also very energizing and making some quite impressive music. Oh, and a lovely GTKY game where were given numbers and had to line up in numerical order, but we weren't allowed to speak at all, show anyone our numbers or hold up the appropriate number of fingers. Somebody solved it almost instantly, but then communicating her solution to the rest of the group was a bit tougher.
There was a late-night session of 'sharing journeys'. I generally hate the kind of activity that involves sitting in a circle with the lights dimmed and sharing (blech!) personal stuff and being spiritual (double blech!). But this surprised me by how well it worked and by how moving it was, I think because people were really sincere and not just trying to be all profound for the sake of it. There's also a genuine trust and acceptance in the group, which doesn't distinguish between people who have been working together for a while and newcomers.
People talked about accompanying a terminally ill friend on her journey into death, and the journey back from hospital after being diagnosed with a nerve degenerative condition, and a journey to Auschwitz, and a journey into alcoholism and out of it, and various conversion experiences, and journeys into doubt. I don't have any stories like that, not really. In like circumstances in the past I'm afraid to say I've tended to make stuff up (telling stories that are factually true but completely inventing my emotional response to them). I didn't want to do so in this case, so I ended up rehashing bits of the sermon I gave at my bat mitzvah, talking about the start of Abraham's journey. I took a few steps into talking about what that story has come to mean to me since, which is something I never talk about. But I did repeat the midrash about the choosing of Abraham:
To what may this be compared? Imagine a traveller who sees a house that is on fire. Many people go on past the house and say nothing, but this man sees the flames and exclaims, 'Surely this house must belong to someone! Where is the master whose house is burning?' At that moment, the master himself leans out of the window of the house and calls to this traveller: 'Don't worry! I am the master of this house, and I know that it is burning.'I ended up being a bit unlucky with transport and had to wait most of two hours in Edinburgh. This is no real hardship, though, because Edinburgh is a lovely place to hang out of a Sunday afternoon. It was sort of damp (there was a very pretty rainbow over Fife on the way back), so I headed to the National Gallery of Scotland. I set out to look for Impressionist portraits but ended up getting distracted by neo-classical landscapes. But that was fun, anyway.
This has been a weekend full of joy.
Today is the 49th and final day of the Omer, making seven complete weeks.