Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Mount Athos, with a Twist

Last weekend, nineteen open-hearted, gifted men lived for  three sweet days in intentional  community at Stonesong Center in western Maryland, as guests of the beautiful, generous-hearted couple who steward the land there.

Our temple was the second floor of a barn. The odd bat flew through at night. There were crickets and cicadas and tree frogs. The full moon silvered the nocturnal landscape.
The magic that arose among us in less than seventy-two hours was deep and powerful, and more than Frank Dunn and I, who led the retreat, could have asked or imagined. I won’t presume to describe everything that happened--first, because, well, you had to be there, and second, because so much of what took place belongs to that sacred gathering and that gathering alone.
But for me, the most vivid, the most powerful memory of the retreat was the experience of the land itself transformed into holy ground by our shared practice: a line of prayer flags made by each of us to mark the respective spots we’d chosen as the site of personal shrines. Over the course of the next two days, we deepened our practice by tending those shrines and welcoming one another as pilgrims to our holy places. Walking along the path, looking up the slope, rounding a corner, wandering in the woods, we came upon these witnesses to the riches of other men’s souls made into invitations to look deeper, to open wider, to feel ourselves woven into a web of connection richer than anything we could have achieved without one another.
Many religious traditions have birthed landscapes honeycombed with gestures of reverence. The dwellings of the Essenes of Qumran; the hermitages of the Egyptian desert; the monastic cells of Mount Athos; the temples of the mountain that towers over Miyajima in the Inland Sea; the folk shrines of northern New Mexico. Last weekend, we became heirs to that broad human heritage--but with a twist: a community of queer men laying claim for ourselves and our tribe to that from which the keepers of so many of those traditions have attempted to exclude us.

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