Over the course of many weeks, I was privileged to be in partnership with my dear friend and colleague Rabbi Jill Zimmerman as we planned and shepherded a one-day retreat for a Mindful Journey Through Shabbat on January 18, 2014, over the long weekend celebrating the birth of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
The retreat was intended to make space for the 60 participants to breathe in and experience the true peace of Shabbat (the Sabbath) while making time for themselves to be mindful of their own spirituality as well as that of those taking the journey with them. We sang, prayed, meditated, studied, conversed, did yoga – so many different levels of connecting as a community and opening ourselves to one another as well as our inner life.
My journey for the day centered around nurturing everyone by making sure that I took care of the details. By sitting at the registration table, I had the opportunity to greet the participants in joyfulness and welcome them into creating sacred space. I directed folks to restroom facilities. I coordinated meal set-up and clean-up with my colleague Rabbi Cindy Enger, Rabbi Jill’s husband Ely, and our staff – two snacks and the lunch, and arranged care packages for people to take home.
All of this may sound mundane, but it truly felt like I was stretching spiritually to be present for people in this way. I am often the scholar at events like these, and I know that role very well. I also know how to be a mother to my children and a life partner to my husband. Being the caring ‘mom-like’ presence for a large group felt new to me, and like an exercise in spirit. As I wrote out the name tags in preparation for registration, it was my intention to write in a beautiful way so that the little pieces of paper contributed to a lovely welcome. I chose a variety of colored folders for the learning materials to add to an eye-catching display. As I shopped for the snacks and ordered the lunch, I wanted to make sure that everything was delicious and abundant so that the participants felt that someone was looking out for them and caring for them.
There were many comments at the end of the day that everything ran smoothly, so that the participants were able to relax into each moment. Each hour of planning that went into the retreat contributed to its spiritual and peaceful atmosphere. There was warmth and connection, facilitated by people being able to let go and not worry about any details other than their own experience. I was truly blessed to extend my spirituality through hospitality. I think we don’t value enough the warmth and grace we can provide to ourselves and others in creating sacred space on the physical level. There is a teaching in Jewish mysticism that we come to understand God’s presence in our lives on four levels: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. The physical level is the first gateway, where everything begins. When we are hungry, too cold or too hot, uncomfortable, it is difficult to feel spiritual. It is often only when our physical needs are well-met that we can let our spirits soar.
As I looked out over the community of 60, I could see that they were comfortable. And my spirit soared.
Rabbi Wendy Spears is a community rabbi in Los Angeles. Find her at http://www.rabbiwendy.com