Second Abrahamic Retreat at the Garrison Institute

Charles Lenchner, 2/3/2005

Last September, twelve Christians, Muslims and Jews gathered at the Garrison Institute for an Abrahamic Retreat, initiated by The Shalom Center. They engaged in each other's spiritual practices, practiced deep sharing with the group, and discussed ideas for carrying the energy forward into continuing retreats and into social action.

On January 28-30, 2005, a follow up retreat was held with eight of the original participants, and four new members. The program consisted again of spiritual and religious ceremonies from each faith tradition, personal sharing, and discussions — this time leading to some decisions on what action in the world we felt called toward.

Our program began on Friday, with each of us talking about successes (blessings) and challenges we have dealt with in our personal lives since September. On Saturday morning, we held a Jewish prayer service led by Rabbi Sheila Weinberg, featuring singing and body-prayer. On Saturday afternoon, we held a Muslim Service led jointly by Ayce K and Dr. Sulayman Nyang. We listened to some authentic Turkish Sufi music, chanted zhikr in the Sufi tradition, and read from the Koran. On Sunday morning, Anne McCarthy led us in a Christian service. This time our handouts included musical notes, and the songs were quite beautiful. We also did a hand washing ritual reminiscent of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

As always, all of the rituals and practices we engaged in were authentic expressions of each faith tradition; and they were constructed so that believers from other faiths were able to participate as well.

During and after the retreat, we went over a document crafted by Bob Morris, which is a kind of mission statement, or credo for the group. It's at the end of this report, and faithfully represents where we are at this moment.

A number of themes emerged in our 'work' discussions, focusing on the direction of our group. Among them:

  • The importance of nurturing ourselves and other faith leaders doing important but difficult work.
  • Recognizing that while some of our work is 'growing edge' it is also connected to the center of our traditions.
  • The need to involve youth in our work; in part because we have something beneficial to share with both alienated AND indoctrinated young people.
  • We have 'prophetic energy' and should strive to create more of it in the world.
  • Recognition that the Religious Right has successfully used sexual issues in addressing core cultural issues. In addressing those issues, we cannot say 'they don't matter.'
  • For various historical reasons connected with the relative newness of large immigrant and American-born Muslim communities and the relative newness of the Muslim encounter with Modernity, it is more difficult to involve an equal number of Muslims in our work; but it is essential, and we need to invest whatever energy is required to do so.

One important theme was the question of the group's identity. On the one hand, the gathering was being organized by The Shalom Center. On the other, there was a desire for a shared identity, newly created as a result of our experiences in fellowship. In the end, we reached consensus:

  • To affirm our collective identity as 'The Tent of Abraham, Hagar, & Sarah' group participants, willing and able to carry out our mission together.
  • To recognize that the members of our Tent have varying abilities to commit time for future projects, but we affirm the importance of this project and are willing to stand and be counted as supporters.
  • To create a web site at the address , allowing us to communicate with the world as a group.
  • The Shalom Center will facilitate the establishment of the website, collect materials for it, and, for the time being, serve as a fiscal agent as we raise the resources necessary for our future projects.
  • To schedule a third retreat beginning May 19 - 22. We all agree to arrive NO LATER than Thursday night, to begin our work with breakfast at 9 a.m. the next day. Departure would be NO EARLIER than 3 p.m. on Sunday the 22nd. (Coming on time for the beginning and staying for the entire retreat is essential for us to do our work together that includes personal sharing, reflection on our process, shared religious practices, and business.)

October Surprises
The Tent of Abraham effort will no doubt evolve and engage in many different kinds of activities. For starters, however, we will focus on the God-given opportunity of the Ramadan/Tishri (High Holidays)/St. Francis day/Gandhi's birthday confluence in October 2005. It is an opportunity to model (the medium is the message) interfaith activities that move beyond tolerance and diversity, and reach a level of shared worship, getting to know others personally, and moving into shared action, rooted in our spoiritual tradtions and practices, for peace, justice and healing of the earth. We seek to promote this level of interaction, by suggesting activities through a website, in the form of downloadable resources, based in part on what we learn from our experiences together on retreat.

In addition to articles about holidays, spiritual practices, and suggested methods for coming together, there will also be reference to causes and struggles we can be part of.

Issues might include: the use of torture and other maltreatment of prisoners by the US government, maltreatment of immigrants, threats to our shared earth (including the way we use oil), the war in Iraq, Israeli-Palestinian peace, and more. We can provide links and suggestions for organizers to modify as they see fit.

Here are some examples illustrating how our ideas fit together:

  • Calling for a nationwide fast on the day of Ramadan that coincides with Yom Kippur — a fast focused on deeper connection with God and on seeking to act on God's call for compassion in regard to the Iraq
  • War and unmet social needs — possibly around a vision embodied in the slogan "End the war, Feed the poor.") Fasters might contribute the cost of the food they are not eating to a fund for feeding the poor.
  • A shared Iftar (break-the-fast) after sunset on one or more days of Ramadan, with Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Might work best for campuses where some physical and social connections already exist.
  • Series of three houseparties during October, one hosted and shaped by each of the communities, so that intimate spiritual events could occur in succession, forming part of a whole.
  • Creating local 'committees of inquiry' demanding to know what has happened to Muslims who are missing from the community and may have been imprisoned incommunicado or may have been deported.

    Gathering in response to the Spirit's call —
    to make peace, not war;
    to make justice, not oppression;
    to build bridges, not erect barriers;
    to heal the earth, not despoil it; and
    to renew and expand our democracy —

    We members of the families of Abraham Jews, Christians, Muslims invite you, and all people of good will, to join us in creating circles that celebrate the prophetic vision of our traditions, both in attitudes and actions.

    According to tradition, the Tent of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah was open in all four directions, the more easily to share food and water with travelers from anywhere. In that spirit, we welcome all those who thirst and hunger for justice, peace, and dignity to join in celebrating the Tent of Abraham, Hagar and Sarah —

    gathering in a way that nurtures the spirit through
    circles of personal sharing about our spiritual journey
    breaking bread together
    respectfully shared worship
    the creation of new, common ceremonies and occasions of celebration
    the linking of festival time
    our rich traditions of singing, dancing and the art
    discerning ways the Spirit is calling us to action

    supporting each other in strategies that
    create local and regional occasions for similar sharing and action
    link regional and national celebrations to the festivals and holy days of each others tradition
    serve the young, especially those alienated from or indoctrinated by our tradition
    seek human rights for all
    challenge the forces that undermine democracy and support oppression

    For further information about implementing a Tent of Abraham, Hagar and Sarah circle in your area, contact

    Biographies of Second Abrahamic Retreat Participants

    Rabbi Phyllis Berman is the founding director since 1979 of the Riverside Language Program in NYC. She is the co-author of A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven and Tales of Tikkun.

    SULAYMAN S. NYANG teaches at Howard University in Washington, D.C. where he serves as Professor of African Studies. From 1975 to 1978 he served as Deputy Ambassador and Head of Chancery of the Gambia Embassy in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

    Jamie Lynn Hamilton. An Episcopal priest since 1991. Chair of the religion department at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. Summer priest in the summer parish of Emmanuel, in Dublin, NH..

    Dr. Vincent Harding. Until recently, Professor of Religion and Human Transformation, Iliff School of Theology, University of Denver.. Co-founder and Chairperson of Veterans of Hope Project. Author of many books on African American history, including There Is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America.

    S. Ayse Kadayifci-Orellana, Ph.D.: Born and raised in Turkey, Dr. Kadayifci received her Ph.D. at the American University in Washington D.C. in the field of International Peace and Conflict Resolution and her M.A. at the University of Kent at Canterbury, England in the field of International Conflict Analysis. Her doctoral dissertation looked at different interpretations of war and peace in the Islamic tradition and explored the reasons behind the rise of extremist interpretations in the West Bank and Gaza.

    Charles Lenchner is the National Organizer for The Shalom Center. He has been working professionally for nonprofits and social change advocacy efforts in Israel and the United States since 1995. Previously, he was a senior staff member on the Dennis Kucinich for President Campaign.

    Anne McCarthy, osb, member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, directs the Center for Social Concerns at Gannon University.

    Robert Corin Morris is the Executive Director of Interweave, an interfaith adult education center "for wellness, spirituality, and the common good" in Summit, New Jersey. An Episcopal priest and trained spiritual director, he is a frequent contributor to Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life and the author of Wrestling with Grace: A Spirituality for the Rough Edges of Daily Life.

    The Rev. Elizabeth A. Reed, Ph.D. is a psycho-spiritual counselor in private practice and directs the non-profit Shalem Center in Ohio, dedicated to wholistic healing and growth of individuals and organizations. Over the past seven years, Shalem Center has developed a partnership with Neil Douglas Klotz' Abwoon Study Circle, supporting its work in North America.

    Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Ph.D., founded and is director of The Shalom Center and is the author or editor of eighteen books on US public policy and on religious thought and practice.

    Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid is the foremost student of the African American Muslim scholar and pioneer, Ash-Shaykhul-Allaama Al-Hjj K. Ahmad Tawfiq (1936-1988). He is the imam of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood Inc., located in Harlem, New York. He also serves as a Prison Chaplain to incarcerated Muslims.

    Rabbi Sheila Weinberg is a Reconstructionist trained rabbi. Director of Outreach and Senior Faculty member of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality.

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