by Michael Thomas
“I don’t think I’m qualified to be an Elder” was what I said when Lawrence asked me to step into that role. In fact, I wrote him a very long letter to elaborate on my feelings (which he completely ignored). But something happened over the 2011 work weekends. An invitation went out from Joy and Lawrence to any of us who thought we were at least old enough to qualify as elders: Let’s convene over Sunday breakfast to hang out together and discuss—what? Not sure. And what’s an elder anyway? Come and see and let’s talk about who we are today and what we want.
In those little meetings in the back office, we fell gratefully back into the arms of community as we had known and loved it at Shalom. It was still there. We told our truths, shared our uncertainties about whether we still belonged here, wrinkles, bellies, and all, we shared our longing for renewing that powerful core sense that there was a place beyond our own homes our own families where we could still belong fully expressed with all our warts and glories. We wanted more.
And so was born the first Shalom Mountain Elder Retreat ever. It was overbooked solid without a single phone call. The waiting list remained long. It didn’t matter that we were still figuring out what an elder is anyway. The magic of the mountain was still strong. We spent a super time reconnecting with our tribe, our cohort, those with whom we share so much history.
It started low key, Joy and Lawrence leading. Stories Friday morning in which we all began to articulate what it meant to us to have arrived at this point in our lives. Friday afternoon we took time to list our personal and professional accomplishments over our lifetimes, and then to share with the groups those of which we are particularly proud. Many of those accomplishments express skills and talents that still have significant value not only to Shalom but to the broader world community in which we live.
In the evening, we were reminded that along with the bright light of our accomplishments, we still have darker sides to attend to and heal. Sobering questions explored in a fair witness framework: Who has hurt or betrayed us who we now need to forgive? Who have we hurt or betrayed who we now need to ask forgiveness And finally, how have we betrayed or hurt ourselves and what can we do to make amends and heal?
We then looked beyond our own lives to examine our relationship to the wider Shalom community. It was a little challenging, since there were no members of the wider community there to express how they see and what they would like from us. Nevertheless, being intrepid elders, by this point of the weekend, we pressed on to draft a statement of our purpose and role on the Mountain. Here it is:
“We the Elders of Shalom continue to dedicate ourselves to the transformational journey of living life to the fullest. We are a dynamic community that embraces the Skills and Principles of Loving. As a vital part of the Shalom community, we use our resources to inspire generosity, creating positive change. As we look to the past and the future with wisdom, love, and spirit, we share our gifts and passions with each other, the Mountain, and the world.”
Additional Elder Retreats are being planned for the future. We can’t wait!