Retreat Impressions from a First-Timer
I grew up UU in North Carolina and so wanted to find a UU community upon moving to France. I was excited to come upon EUU while looking around online, and I decided to register for the fall retreat in Mittelwihr. I thought it would be a cool way to meet people with whom I would already have something important in common and to connect with a network of UUs across Europe. I was absolutely correct.
From the first evening of the retreat, I already felt more comfortable, safer, and able to be more open than I would in any other social gathering of strangers. I knew that I shared values and certain elements of a UU worldview with the other attendees, and everyone was very kind and welcoming toward me. I was fascinated to hear how each person found Unitarian Universalism, especially from those native to Europe. I got to learn about the existence of UU in Europe and how it functions today, as well as some of the history of how it started. I was very inspired by the guest speaker, Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker from Scotland, who spoke to us about nonviolence and spirituality. I also enjoyed the familiarity of the UU rituals, from sharing joys and concerns and lighting the chalice, to watching a talent show on Saturday night, to singing some of my favorite hymns on Sunday morning. These are the kinds of things that I grew up with and that I miss when I’m away from home. The EUU fall retreat helped me feel connected and supported in my spiritual community, even across the ocean, and I hope to be able to attend the spring retreat in Germany!
Meeting for Clearness (part of the theme discussion)
The Saturday morning theme discussion included short discussion groups where we sampled the Quaker practice of Meeting for Clearness. EUU Member At Large Nancy Klein wrote a blog post that related to her own experience in the Meeting for Clearness.
Her blog is at spainwriter.home.blog
Both Sides Are Suffering
The other day I was walking by a commercial center and noticed a small black kitten run under a parked car and hiss loudly at a big cat nearby. I was concerned this kitten might run out into the street to get away from the other cat and get hit by a car. Suddenly, I noticed a young man on the sidewalk beside me. He asked me in English, “Is that your cat?” I said, no, but I was worried it might be hit if it ran out into the street. Apparently, this kitten was under his car. Suddenly, he knelt down, stuck out his hand, and out came the black kitten. He picked it up gently and put it on the grass, on the far side of the sidewalk, and it ran across a field, in the opposite direction from the street and the other cat. I said, “Thank you so much” and asked his name. He said it was Boris.
“Where are you from, Boris?” I asked, as most people who live in this touristy Costa Blanca area are from other countries. He said he was from Russia.
Pilgrimage to the Albert Schweitzer Home and Seminar Center – John Eichrodt
Our leader, John Eichrodt, described this workshop not as a simple visit or tour, but rather a pilgrimage to honor the life and work of Dr. Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), in particular his theological quest and life-long efforts for world peace. The home and center are about a twenty-five minute ride southeast of Mittelwihr, in the small Alsatian village of Gunsbach, and our visit happily coincided with the 70th anniversary of Schweitzer’s receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952….
Feeling unconnected and lonely and how to deal with such moments or times of life – Elke Brandes
Based on Never Push When It Says Pull by Guy Browning, Elke Brandes drew four different scenarios for us to look at and help us get started to think and share about when and how we experience loneliness and what we do in those moments. In the first scenario, there is a person separated from a crowd of strangers, but all of them are sharing one space. This could happen in a karaoke bar, for instance. In the second scenario, there is a person in one space within a crowd of strangers. In the third scenario, there is one person and just one more other but familiar person in the shared space. In the fourth scenario, the person is alone in their space.
I was very much looking forward to this workshop, as a discussion-style sharing and exchanging is one of my favorite conversation formats, and I was intrigued by the topic as well. We were a small group which I appreciated. We quickly found out that feeling lonely and feeling alone are definitely two different things and that there are participants who prefer and need to be alone in their own space from time to time and others who draw energy from the presence of other humans in a shared space, even if there is no actual interaction. There are also very different approaches to dealing with feelings of loneliness. Some would call someone to have a conversation, and others would text someone to see if they are available to talk. Some would openly say they are experiencing loneliness; others would not (directly) disclose the reason for reaching out.
It is interesting and rewarding to come together like this and find out about other people’s thoughts on a certain topic that resonates with one so much. I am really glad I signed up for this workshop – kudos to Elke for providing this space and opportunity to talk and learn. Thank you!
Qi Gong for Women – Claire Harrison
Claire Harrison shared some of her vast knowledge of Chinese healing and health maintenance techniques in her recent workshop entitled “Qi Gong for Women”.
As a reminder, Qi Gong synchronizes body-posture, movement, breathing, and mental imagery to nurture health and healing. Emerging from Chinese medicine, Taoist and Confucian philosophies and martial arts, the practice cultivates and balances qi, which translates as “life energy”.
Claire opened the workshop by recounting that a woman doctor, Liu Ya Fei, created Women’s Qi Gong in her role as head of the Qi Gong medical center of Beidaihe, China. This subset of Qi Gong movements address women’s health issues: menstrual discomfort, menopause, organ prolapse, cysts, breast health, osteoporosis and insomnia. They are practiced as a preventive measure and as supplemental treatment for patients recovering from disease.
We started with warm-up exercises and then progressed to a more elaborate routine in cycles of nine repetitions focusing either on the torso and pelvic areas or mobilizing each side of the body alternatively. Claire indicated how to coordinate our breathing with the expansion and compression of the movements. At times, she suggested imagery to accompany the gestures such as a cascade of water falling through our heads and running through to all parts of the body. The movements were easy, graceful, absorbing. Sometimes they were calming, and sometimes they were invigorating.
When the activity ended, our group of 10 women participants talked with Claire about the history of Qi Gong practice. She said that the practice had a socially disruptive reputation, which accounts for why we don’t see Qi Gong sessions being conducted in big open spaces as is common with T’ai Chi. She mentioned, too, that these gentle and powerful techniques were used in the sexually-segregated monasteries, both for quieting sexual vitality and stopping menstruation.
Claire has studied with the founder, Liu Ya Fei, who travels to Europe to give masterclasses, specifically in Paris at the Chinese Cultural Center, Les Temps du Corps. The YouTube link to her is : https://youtu.be/JnwU3n7YJMU. Liu Ya Fei will be holding a Paris workshop at this center next year, April 22-23 for anyone who would like to know more.
We finished this workshop feeling refreshed by this deep self-care art.
Two Workshops : Slow Flow Yoga (Caroline Von Westernhagen) and Self-Empowerment through Sounds and Movement (Blanca Maria Muller Lagunez)
I was blessed to receive the gift of going to the retreat. It was a beautiful weekend in the vineyards of Alsace with friends old and new.
I attended a yoga workshop led by Caroline Von Westernhagen. Though English is not her native tongue, she explained and demonstrated all the poses well. The room was sunny and warm, and there was a good ambiance. I could no longer do all the poses, but I tried them all. Afterwards I was filled with a lovely peace and the realization I needed to do more yoga! The rest of the weekend I was reminded of that through my sore muscles. I give thanks for the sense of gentleness and connectedness of this yoga class.
I also participated in Blanca Maria Muller Lagunez’s workshop Self Empowerment through Sounds and Movement. This workshop leader is a very dynamic person, and it was very touching to hear everyone’s experiences. You could really feel Blanca Maria’s care and concern for each participant. We were invited to make various sounds and movements as a group, and then one by one we were invited to hear our name called by the others and to tell what we were feeling. I’ve never been in a workshop like this before, but it worked. I did feel more empowered after our time together.
Who Are You to Think That You Can Change the World? – Wolfgang Jantz
A number of us attended this workshop, which reviewed the history of endeavors by UUs and fellow travelers over the past generation to build bridges and tolerance. Wolfgang has been a key player in many of these efforts. The title of his presentation comes from a poster that hangs prominently near his computer and was presented to another Frankfurt-based German Unitarian official by an American UU choir. Apparently the saying comes from the Rev. Richard (Dick) Boeke, who along, with his Dutch wife, Johanna (Jopie), attended many EUU retreats while they served as ministers in southern England; for him, religion is a call to action.
Wolfgang reviewed the actions of former UUA President Bill Schulz, who played a crucial role in the formation of the UUA Partner Church Council in the 1990s, when the eastern bloc opened up, and the plight of the large number of our brethren in Transylvania (Romania) became better known. It was there that the 1568 Edict of Tolerance (also known as the Edict of Torda) was promulgated by King John Sigismund of Hungary, who was described by a Vermont newspaper a few years ago as “certainly the most enlightened, gentle, kindhearted and tolerant monarch of his day”. He was greatly influenced by the Unitarian minister Ferenc (Francis) David but sadly died at the age of 30 and was succeeded by a Catholic, beholden to the Habsburgs, who reversed the prevailing acceptance of tolerance. Just a few years later, David was imprisoned and died, though the Unitarian congregations lived on.
Wolfgang reminisced about a tour of Transylvania he made in the early 1990s with Boeke and others where they learned about the harsh material conditions the local Unitarians had to endure and the efforts made to get them medicines and farm equipment. From such roots came the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists, formed in 1995 and, sadly, now defunct.
Wolfgang’s spirit shows us that by ensuring we are properly informed and through joining forces, each of us can, indeed, change the world.
The 6th Principle – Sarah Zimmermann
At the EUU Fall Retreat 2022, Sarah Zimmermann introduced the question: “Should we include intergalactic persons in our 6th principle?” The values we promote for all humans could or should be applied also for extraterrestrials – if we ever get in contact. The workshop, though, took another turn. Instead of adding the intergalactic population, the inclusion of all other-than-human-persons was proposed (which would also include the inhabitants of the universe). But as long as we don’t grant worth and dignity to our earthly co-creations, we will remain in the mess we are in (global warming, extinction).
Then the discussion arose if only living beings should be included or “all-there-is,” including other-than-human persons (or non-human person), especially in regard to a legal status. Examples exist: an Orangutan won in 2014 a court case in Argentina and a river in 2016 in Columbia.
A proposition for a wider view of the 7 principles was made; though it was not approved by all workshop participants full-heartedly.
First principle: The inherent worth and dignity of every human person and every other-than-human person.
Sixth principle: The goal of a community with peace, liberty, and justice for all humans and all other-than-human persons.