By Leslie Leasure
Report from Sacred Snapshots, Berkeley, California
On April 21, 2012, Pacific School of Religion hosted a new event called Sacred Snapshots: A Sampler for the Spirit, a day-long event celebrating spiritual practices from a range of religions and tradition. Each hour during the day, participants could choose from an array of experiential sessions, worship rituals, and lectures on divinity in its many forms, taught by progressive leaders, thinkers, and practitioners of various faiths.
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The idea for Sacred Snapshots started with this thought: What if people could have a chance to explore the spiritual practices of the major religions without the fear of evangelism, pressure, or bad jell-o molds?
I wanted to create an event where practitioners from as many traditions as we could find could come together to teach their spiritual practices and share their love, awe and wonder, in whatever form. It would be like a festival to experience spiritual practice as opposed to a more academic interfaith conference or dialogue.
I was inspired to create this event because of my own experiences with church and religion. I spent most of my life identifying as “spiritual but not religious.” So when, at 40, I told my friends I was going to seminary, specifically, a predominantly Christian seminary, at first they thought I’d lost my mind. To be fair, I did too. I was a little bewildered by it. What’s a nice progressive feminist like me doing in a religion like this? My friends asked me if I “really believed all that stuff.” I think they were seriously concerned that I would now whip out the Bible at any opportunity and try to save their souls. But for me, religion isn’t so much about belief as it is about practice and community.
And it was funny, during my first year in seminary, my friends would say things to me like: “I wish I knew how to pray or meditate or do some spiritual practice, but I don’t want to go to church or temple or circle or whatever. “
So, last fall I went to the administrators of my school, Pacific School of Religion (PSR), and suggested the idea of a one-day event exploring diverse spiritual practices. They enthusiastically agreed to host the project. PSR is a Christian seminary with a progressive history and mission. For example, we are the home of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry and our students go on to lead congregations, serve as interfaith chaplains, and work for social justice around issues of immigration, poverty, homelessness, and marriage equality.
We gathered several students from different backgrounds to work on the concept. Some were Christian, some were pagan, some were spiritual but not religious. We struggled to come up with the right name, and Rumi’s quote, “There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground,” became a sort of tagline for us. We decided that each hour, participants could choose from multiple experiential workshops from different faiths or attend a ritual from a variety of traditions.
We agreed that the event should represent the kind of open and radical Christianity that many of us believed in – one that shows extravagant welcome, not just talks about it. We explained it like this: “Sacred Snapshots is based in the idea of radical Christian hospitality. If you are a Christian and this event gives you new excitement about your faith, great... If you find a new tradition that motivates you to work for justice, or if you discover a spiritual practice that deepens your connection to the holy, we feel the event will have fulfilled its purpose. (And hey, if you get motivated to take some theology classes at PSR, that’s cool too!)”
In recruiting presenters, we did a lot of outreach in the community. The first presenters to sign on did things like Sacred Dance and Shamanic Journeying. We found Buddhists, Pagans, Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, and Hindus – all willing to volunteer their time to share their practices and excitement. In all, we had more than 40 presenters hosting 63 different workshops and rituals. Each hour there were between 10 -12 different options to choose from. The event included everything from bjahans, devotional music, to gospel singing, from drumming circles to havdalah, from labyrinth walking to 12-step inventories, to ten forms of meditation.
The event welcomed more than 240 people to the PSR campus – many of whom had never been to the seminary before. Most stayed for the whole day – the energy and sense of connection was palpable; the whole event felt joyful. The workshop presenters and attendees were a lovely and diverse crowd – racially, ethnically, religiously, generationally. Many presenters talked about how they loved meeting the other presenters, from a different traditions but doing similar work, which made the community feel smaller.
A couple from Brazil planning a trip to the U.S., once they found the Sacred Snapshots website, adjusted their trip’s timing to be here that day. Someone else flew up to the Bay Area from San Diego for the day. One of the attendees was a janitor at a BART station who noticed publicity postcards as he was sweeping up and decided it was an event he didn’t want to miss.
The best part was how many people said the event was “transformative” for them. It made me wonder what it might be like if we could create this kind of community – one based on openness, respect, and love, with a passion for justice – where Christians, Pagans, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and those following the wild variety of religious traditions could come together, in wonder and in peace, and celebrate together – for more than one day.
For more details, go to Sacred Snapshots.