One of the best things that happened to me in a long time was connecting with Cynthia Brix and Will Keepin of the Satyana Institute about a year ago (http://www.satyana.org/conf_jun_2011.html).

Will and Cynthia are the ones who invited me to join them at Camp Brotherhood, the interfaith retreat center in the woods near Puget Sound, last June. I had the great honor to work alongside a luminous circle of teachers from different faith traditions for a gathering called “Heart of the Beloved.” It was a powerfully collaborative experience, not only among the leaders but also between the presenters and the participants. Will and Cynthia have this magical ability to build community—swiftly and joyfully—so that everyone involved drops their habitual self-defenses and opens their collective heart. I’ve never seen anything like it. I wrote about a transformational experience I had there in my upcoming book, GOD OF LOVE.

That’s why when they invited me to attend a “Power of Reconciliation” workshop at Ghost Ranch near my home in northern New Mexico last weekend, I moved mountains to show up (http://www.satyana.org/power_new.html). I would follow Will and Cynthia anywhere—I’m seriously tempted to join them one of these days for their remarkable service work in Africa or India. Besides, Abiquiú (where Georgia O’Keefe painted her stunning desert landscapes) is only a couple of hours away, and the drive is gorgeous.

It’s not that I thought I had any particular issues with gender wounding (ha!). After all, I grew up in the counter-culture, the daughter of feminist parents who taught me that I could do anything I could dream of (and I have). But it did not take me long to recognize all the ways in which I had been subjected to the cultural imbalance between the masculine and the feminine, and had been unconsciously complicit in contributing to my own suffering and to that of the men in my life. It was a potent awakening. But much more significant than my recognition that this issue is an issue for me after all was the realization that all the religions of the world, which I am so passionately involved in writing, speaking, and teaching about, have this shadow of gender imbalance at their core. All my efforts to point out the common message of love at the heart of all faiths are futile until I acknowledge this and deal with it. That journey began last weekend. What made it even more relevant for me was the fact that the gender work Will and Cynthia do is grounded in an interspiritual approach, weaving in prayers, practices and celebrations from many spiritual streams. It’s quite revolutionary. I urge you to experience it for yourself.

But the most powerful part of the weekend was meeting a group of young religious leaders who, though deeply rooted in their respective faith traditions, have this living love for all the world’s spiritual paths and wisdom ways.

Matthew has recently graduated from seminary and been ordained as an Episcopal deacon. He also prays the salat five times a day in Arabic (his smart phone erupted with Call to Prayer every few hours, and off he went with his prayer rug to a corner of the room). He also has a regular mediation practice in the Hindu tradition. This guy is not only extremely smart (he taught me a thing or two about the Gospels for the upcoming class on Christian Scriptures I was scheduled to start teaching at the University the following week), but he radiates love and joy. It’s as if Matthew’s entire purpose on Planet Earth is to open the hearts of everyone he meets. He certainly opened mine.

Gabrielle is a gifted singer who grew up in the Evangelical Church and is now beginning to shift and broaden her perspective to actively include the Sacred Feminine. This is a courageous act in her culture, but her heart is so on fire with love-longing, and she is so stunningly articulate, that I do believe she is going to start a revolution. Gabrielle had the inspiration to take a line from the Song of Songs, translate it back into Hebrew (with the help of a young rabbinical student also attending the retreat) and put it to music. Within a couple of days after our return from Ghost Ranch she had sent us an audio clip of a hauntingly beautiful chant she created. I told her it was if she had tapped into the ancient stream of yearning and awe in the Jewish tradition.

Adir is studying to be a rabbi in the Conservative tradition. He grew up in the Old City of Jerusalem as well as a small village in the South of France. His parents have been actively involved with the Peace Movement between Israelis and Palestinians since long before most Americans had ever even heard of such a thing, and he has been surrounded by great mystical Jews and Sufis his whole life. He is also involved in the Vedanta path and has a contemplative practice. Adir and I led a Shabbat service together during our retreat, and we seamlessly blended our respective liturgical lineages to create a ritual of such simple sweetness that the people who participated were moved at a core level, and Adir and I are bonded for life.

Natalia comes from Colombia and has lived her entire life surrounded by danger, strife, and violence. Her response has been to meet fear with love, chaos with gentleness, despair with radiant optimism. Her innate goodness and insightfulness made me feel that I was truly in the presence of a young saint. Natalia has tapped her ancestral indigenous roots and is learning to incorporate Native shamanic wisdom into her work in the world.

These four young people are passionate about the intespiritual path—about walking it, talking it, teaching it, and letting it lead them to unexpected, not always comfortable, places. I am in awe of each of them, and I have this feeling there are many more young spiritual leaders like them emerging during this time of global crisis and planetary awakening. This gives me such hope! If you have any stories about this new crop of interspiritual beings, we’d love to hear them here.

Toward the One!

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Epiphany in Crestone

January 11, 2012

Last week Ganga Das and I drove up to Crestone, Colorado, to celebrate Epiphany with our Carmelite friends, Fr. Dave and Tessa, at their remote hermitage in the San Luis valley. Check out their website for a glimpse of the important work they’re doing with the Desert Foundation in an effort to breathe contemplative wisdom into the strife-ridden relationship between the Children of Abraham: http://www.desertfound.org/

Epiphany is the celebration of the startling incarnation of divinity into humanity, represented by the visitation of three wise men from the east—symbolic of all the ancient wisdom cultures of the world—to the newborn Christ child. I like to imagine that the baby Jesus stands for all of us, called to infuse every aspect of our lives with the sacred and embrace all of creation as unutterably holy. But then I also believe that when Christ says in the Gospel of John that he is “the way, the truth and the light” he means that we are also, and that when he says “no one shall come to the Father except through me” he means no one comes home to God except through love. I can’t help but see all true mystical teachings as universal, and universally liberating.

In the afterword of my new book, GOD OF LOVE (to be released in April), I challenge my readers to stretch beyond their spiritual comfort zones and check out a religious tradition different from their own. I encourage them to experience a ritual from another faith, open their hearts, and let in the love in which the practice is rooted. So celebrating Epiphany with our Catholic friends was another opportunity for me to put my money where my mouth is.

Ganga Das and I had just been through a family crisis, and we were reeling a bit as we drove the 150 miles from our home in northern New Mexico, and made our way up the mountain and crossed San Isabel Creek to join our hermit friends in the woods of southern Colorado. As usual, Fr. Dave and Tessa met us with all the exuberant hospitality with which Father Abraham greeted the angels disguised as travelers outside his tent in the Sinai Desert nearly 3,000 years ago.

Tessa and Fr. Dave escorted us to Tessa’s Hogan where we would be staying, and then left us alone to unpack. A small herd of mule deer wandered into the meadow where the Hogan is nestled and watched us through the vast west-facing windows. After we had settled in and the sun began to set in a glorious explosion of color, the two monks returned laden with trays and goblets overflowing with juniper boughs, candles, chocolate coins, and aromatic spices. They set up an altar beside the crackling piñon fire, handed us each a copy of a beautiful Epiphany liturgy they had crafted weaving poetry and song, and led us in a ritual celebrating the mystery of the sacred poured into the ordinary. Afterwards, Fr. Dave wrote the names of the three kings in Arabic with blue chalk over the lintel of Tessa’s doorway, where it would remain until next Epiphany.

Then we packed it all up and ambled back through the woods to Tessa’s casita, where Fr. Dave celebrated Mass for us. I was given the great honor of reading the Hebrew Scripture (in English) from the Prophet Isaiah. When Fr. Dave lifted the chalice, embedded with opals from Tessa’s late mother’s collection and the fire in the stones blazed in the candle light, my eyes filled with tears and I gave thanks for whatever it is in my life that has allowed me to so deeply drink from the most sacred wells of many spiritual traditions. After Mass, Tessa served us French Onion Soup and crusty bread with butter, and we popped open a bottle of champagne to celebrate all that we have collectively endured over the past year, and the promise of peace to come.

Next, we made our way back to Fr. Dave’s hermitage for dinner. Tessa had spread layers of brightly colored cloth on the floor, covered with sparkling stars, more golden chocolate coins, cinnamon sticks and candles, and then began to serve us a Middle Eastern feast: two kinds of hummus, pita bread, a half-dozen varieties of olives, home-canned artichoke hearts, platters of raw veggies arrayed like star-bursts. And good red wine. For dessert we had dried apricots and dates, and slabs of dark chocolate. Fr. Dave and Tessa are all about the glory of the incarnation and praising the place where form and the formlessness meet.

All night the full moon poured itself across the latilla ceiling and log walls of the Hogan, and Ganga Das and I hardly slept. In the morning, I felt infused with a stillness I had not experienced in a long time. After breakfast (yes, more gorgeous food—scrambled eggs with leeks and peppers, and a Christmas bread baked by a friend of the monks—“We’re feeders,” Tessa shrugged), we four went walking up a forest trail in the perfect blue-sky deep-winter day. Then, without any other means to thank our friends for the gift of the holy they shared with us, we took pictures of Tessa in the new hard hat Fr. Dave gave her for Christmas, as she held up a log and he brandished the chain saw they use to put in their long winter supply of firewood (they live entirely off the grid). We drove home to Taos, the drained cup of our souls replenished.