I just got back from the Powell House retreat center in upstate New York, joining 40-some Quakers from the Brooklyn Friends Meeting. It was a relaxing and spiritually recharging weekend among some very deep souls.
I'm fairly new to Brooklyn Meeting, having only started attending a couple of years ago. So going on a weekend retreat seemed like a good way of getting to know several members in a deeper way, as well as getting to explore spiritual issues with others in a safe and welcoming space. And as one of the organizers of the retreat, I knew the gathering would force me to put myself forward in the community, something that is not always easy for me.
The theme of the retreat was "Balance," a term the organizers kept purposefully vague, to allow people to address the subject in whatever ways they felt spoke to their condition most directly. One attendee spoke about physical balance issues he was experiencing as a result of an injury, and the resultant fear and anxiety this caused. Some talked about balancing their lives at the workplace, home, and Meeting, managing those competing demands and obligations. Others spoke about how to bring balance to our Quaker community as we manage our diversity and growth.
A guiding text for the weekend was the final chapter of Thomas Kelly's book on Quaker mysticism A Testament of Devotion. In this essay, Kelly issues to all believers a challenge to live a more integrated life, centered on God every day, every minute of our life. As he asks, "Are our lives unshakable, because we are clear down on bed rock, rooted and grounded in the love of God?" Several times we returned to this text over the weekend.
Since "balance" was our theme, the organizing committee wanted to make sure that the weekend itself was well balanced. The schedule included lots of free time, optional activities, socializing, hiking in the mountains, long conversations over tea in the dining room, as well as more structured large group and small group discussions.
I really enjoyed the mealtimes, which were communal, casual periods for getting to know the other Brooklyn Quakers over healthy and tasty food, lovingly prepared by the house chef. We all participated in meal-related chores, which created more opportunities for connecting with other members and satisfying in their own way. (I really like washing dishes!)
My main contribution to the retreat was the social dancing I wrote about yesterday. Several people thanked me for bringing this to the retreat, many hoping for more opportunities to dance! I was grateful for the opportunity to share with a wider group this spiritual leading that I've been following.
This is my second or third time at Powell House, a wonderful retreat center which we Quakers are really lucky that we can benefit from. I'm a City Mouse not a Country Mouse, but being in the middle of a quiet forest amidst the birds and chipmunks and deer is such a refreshing break from city life.
I can't wait for another opportunity to visit.