I’ve spent the last two days immersed in this interspirituality conference. Kurt Johnson was our main speaker with many members of our local community participating as panelists/presenters. It is impossible for me to condense two intensive days into a reasonable summary, so I will instead give a series of impressions, connections, and experiences.
I learned a lot from an academic/historical perspective about interspirituality. While it uses a different vocabulary, the concepts were familiar to me from studying spiritual teachers such as Joan Chittister and Richard Rohr who transcend the borders between spiritual traditions and emphasize the universal, indwelling presence of the Divine.
One of the unsettling aspects for me that was articulated by some of the women in attendance was that even at the advanced levels of spirituality and consciousness that were being discussed, the lens was still predominantly and historically male. When there was discussion of the power of small groups and the advantages of people relating as non-hierarchal circles, I and at least several of the other women in the room were thinking, “Well, of course. This is how we have related, created, innovated, passed on wisdom, supported one another, moved forward together for centuries.” It was a bit disconcerting to realize that the primacy of love, connection, relation, co-creativity, and the holiness of all creation that are felt so deeply in the hearts, minds, and wombs of women are only now again being re-discovered and brought out into the wider academic world and dialogue on how the world is organized.
That I was at the conference at all was due to connections through women and their circles. My friend Yvonne Lucia, whose amazing artwork you can see here, was a panelist and passed on invitations to me and other members of sacred circles in which we have participated. I, in turn, was blessed to be able to invite and meet in person Jamie of Sophia’s Children, with whom I had recently connected in the blogosphere. I so appreciated the enriching conversations that we had during breaks and lunches and a lovely walk along the river that Jamie and I shared after the conference ended a bit earlier than anticipated this afternoon.
The conference followed what was termed as a “loosey-goosey” model, which was fine as it led into unexpected areas and revelations. I was, however, disappointed that we did not do much discussion of ecospirituality, which is becoming increasingly important to me at this point in time. In all my years of writing commentary on fracking, renewable energy, climate change, and environmental topics, I had to make arguments based on science and economics. Because the anti-fracking movement was being characterized as coming only from a place of emotion and NIMBY-ism, I was careful to work from a fact- basis and to not respond to personal attack. What only those close to me knew was that the energy behind all those comments came from my grounding in the values of Catholic social justice doctrine, which includes care of all creation and an extra measure of protection and care for the most vulnerable, whether an endangered ecosystem or a community left vulnerable to pollution, sea level rise, inadequate food and shelter, or other threat. Now, with the impending release of Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment and my involvement in the newly reconstituted Catholic Peace Community of the Southern Tier, I feel that I can integrate my environmental advocacy with my spiritual values in a more public way, hoping to spread the message in our communities about steps we can take to help our damaged climate before the climate talks convene in Paris in December.
One of the gifts of the conference for me was increased clarity of my own spiritual journey as I continue through my 50s. While I am still grounded in the “big C” Catholic church, although as a progressive feminist within it, what I learned there – the elements of social justice, the sacramentality of life and relationship, the indwelling of God in each person and all of creation, God as Love, Peace, Ground of Being – makes me also and increasingly a “small c” catholic, which mean universal. That is how I am thinking about interspirituality at this point, that universal connection in which all people of good will share, whether they arrive there via a faith/spiritual tradition or through humanism, science, or some other path.
One of the other blessings was the presence and sharing of some from the Millennial age cohort. While some think of their tendency to connect with one another electronically to be a detriment, I think it is one of their strengths. While those of us in older generations were brought up largely in localized boxes, the Millennials have grown up being connected instantly to a wide circle of people. From my two 20-something daughters and their friends, I have learned so much about celebrating diversity. It is a great source of hope and comfort to me that they already know and live some of these things that have taken me much longer to discover. To know that we have their generation’s commitment, broad sense of community, energy, and love already engaged is a great source of hope and comfort to me.
I am an introvert and gatherings of people are daunting to me. In the two days of the conference, I didn’t ever rise to ask a question or speak. I also tend to need a lot of processing time – and then go on to write overly long blog posts! But I will close with one more observation that I am mulling. There were a handful of people at the conference that I knew personally, mostly people that I met through Yvonne. There were others who recognized me as a poet, a part of my life that has been public for such a short time that it still seems like a surprise when someone identifies me that way. There were also people who knew me by sight from my fracktivist activities or by name because of my public commentary. And most of the people in the room who do not know me at all.
There was, however, a special personal connection that I had within the church in which we met. When I was in my twenties, it was my privilege to study organ with Searle Wright. First Congregational was his home church and my lessons often took place there. I took a moment after lunch today to go visit the Aeolian Skinner organ, to sit on the bench for a moment, to remember the wonders of Searle playing it, and to recall the time when I was still able to play myself.
I managed not to cry, although I don’t know if I will tomorrow morning when I attend the Sunday service which will be the official closing of the conference.
Update: I’m happy to share the link to Jamie’s initial blog post on the conference: http://sophias-children.com/2015/04/28/interspiritual-its-here-its-happening-its-on-its-way/. It gives you a much better sense of what interspirituality means and you can follow her blog for more of her insights as they come our way.