First of all, just so you all know, I’m over it. I don’t even care anymore, although I was exceedingly amused by some of the comments that happened on my little blog over the weekend. And by amused, I mean that I actually giggle thinking about how hard it must be to be in the head of someone who is so sure they are going to heaven and I’m not.
Which brings me to the reason I’m so at peace, and not snarling with impotent rage. I spent the weekend with Sheila, Liz, my aunt Barbara, her best friend Judy, and about 50 other incredible women I didn’t know before, in Kirtland, Ohio. This is going to take some explaining, so be patient. It might take a dozen posts to work through how fabulous this retreat was.
I’ll start with the location. Kirtland, Ohio is a tiny little town east of Cleveland that is really only a speck on the map for most people, but for Mormons, it is a place full of history that inspires great emotion. It is a popular destination for family vacations and tours, along with places like Palmyra, New York, Nauvoo, Illinois, and several others. Kirtland is where the Mormons built their first temple, and it is still standing there. Across the street and down the hill is a store owned by an early Mormon family, and several other buildings that date back to the time before the Mormons were driven out of Ohio and into Missouri. The area and the buildings are important to Mormon history because if the events that happened there. Joseph Smith lived in the home of Newell K. Whitney, who owned the store where, upstairs, Smith conducted the “School of the Prophets,” a sort of training class for future leaders.
Liz, Sheila, and I went on the tour, and I must say the the buildings are beautiful. Like a moron, I didn’t even take a camera, so I have no photos to share, but these buildings have been restored artfully, with period furnishings and fixtures, and even a few pieces of furniture that were original to the houses. The store was stocked with real-live mid-1800s general store inventory. We also toured the sawmill and the place where they make potash. I can’t think what it’s called, but it was cool.
We had an evening service in the Kirtland Temple, which is important to Mormons as not only the first temple of many, but also the place where Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery saw a vision of Jesus Christ, Moses, Elias and Elijah.
Although the location of the retreat was beautiful and historically and architecturally interesting, the important part about being there was meeting and associating with some fantastic women who were intellectually intimidating, with their PhDs, published books and articles, time spent in the Peace Corps, etc., but kind, personable, welcoming, charming, accepting, non-judging, free-thinking… I could go on. The women were all at various stages of faith: believing Mormons, doubting Mormons who love the church, women who love the doctrine but dislike the culture, women in the process of leaving the church, and even women who had been excommunicated from the church, or had previously left and recently returned to activity. In other words, this was not a typical Relief Society event organized by a local entity, it was just a gathering of women with the purpose of sharing a weekend of spiritual and intellectual enrichment. Writing about it brings back the peace, fulfillment and acceptance I felt while I was there.
Here is a brief synopsis of the presentations I attended, which not all that was offered. I have mostly left out the names of the presenters.
1. A presentation by a woman who is a member of the Community of Christ, formerly know as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Barbara talked about her upbringing and her Priesthood ordination. She brought with her two friends who also answered questions.
2. A workshop on poverty and abundance, by two women, one of whom was a professor of psychology, the other of whom had spent 3 years in Kenya, serving in the Peace Corps.
3. A presentation by a woman who grew up Muslim and Iraqi in America, and a reading of selections from her memoir.
4. A talk on the need us to establish our own credos, and the need for us to find our own faith heroes, especially within an idiomatic belief-system such as Mormonism.
5. A presentation on the beauty and faith that can be gained by praying the Psalms as written, straight out of the Old Testament. This talk was given by Jana Riess, who has a master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and a PhD in American Religious History from Columbia, and is also the author of “What Would Buffy Do? The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide.” I know you are jealous, and to make it even better, she had copies in her trunk, and I got myself a signed one.
6. A talk about loving our neighbors, and getting past only loving the people we have something in common with.
7. Another talk on love and justice, and the need especially for redemptive love, which does not discount justice, but rather includes mercy.
I didn’t take notes on any of the presentations, to my eternal shame. Although I did request copies of their texts or notes, as did everyone else who attended. I’m hoping to get permission to share more of their thoughts and words, because it was just too awesome. These women were so intelligent, thoughtful, and sensitive.