RRC Student Leslie Hilgeman spent last weekend attending a retreat organized by the “Tent of Abraham, Hagar and Sarah.”
Here is her report….
Transforming Interfaith Activism
By Leslie Hilgeman
Each year we are still at war in the Middle East, Memorial Day feels less and less like a holiday I want to celebrate at the beach. Instead, this year I got to spend my Memorial Day Weekend at a conference dedicated to fostering peace.
I attended the “Tent of Abraham, Hagar and Sarah,” an annual summit of US interfaith leaders and scholars, organized by Arthur Waskow and Phyllis Berman of the Shalom Center. Meeting since 2004, this year the group gathered for three days at the Pearlstone Center in Reierstown, Maryland.
RRC sent me, a first-year rabbinical student at the college, to learn about the growing Interfaith movement in the US. I expected to see difficult political discussions on the Middle East. Table pounding! But most of the weekend was spent quietly together building relationships as Americans of Faith. You can read more about the Tent of Abraham philosophy here.
And this was what we did: We each told stories about our spiritual journeys. Each of us offered prayers or meditation over the course of the weekend that we all participated in. This pushed us out of the role of being a distant observer of someone else’s tradition and allowed us to share it, albeit for a moment. After that, I experienced the group in a different way.
We did eventually get to politics, but it was introduced gently. We had a reading and discussion about how to hold productive interreligious dialogue. When we did talk about political interests, we had already built some trust. People could ask questions or speak up when they disagreed. And when we decided to undertake a project together – holding a conference on renewal of religious texts and traditions – it felt truly representative and compelling.
I returned to Philadelphia feeling really moved. Sure, I had learned some things about Muslim Salaat prayer or the Christian practice of Lectio Divina. But more importantly I learned a model for transforming Interfaith activism, using Faith. By holding the vision, respect and commitment to hear and trust the Other – and perhaps to be touched by the Other – we can pass through the discomfort and risk of Difference, and move towards healing, collaboration and peace.