On Being Gathering 2018

Cheryl Oreglia and Krista Tippett 

I’ve been called worse things in life but “critical yeast” takes the cake. Although humbled by the implication that I might be able to enact change in the world, expand love, and garner some sort of influence, clashes with a deeply embedded image of myself, one who does not under any circumstance color outside the lines. 

Is it senile to consider emulating a single celled fungi? 

The word “yeast” literally means “boil, foam, or bubble.” These microbes are the earliest domesticated organisms, like dogs, they’re work has been vitally important for thousands of years, literally sustaining ancient and modern communities, with not only fluffy bread, but the possibility of fermentation.

Okay, now you have my full attention.

Was it only two thousand years ago that a young Jewish man cleverly spoke about this very substance metaphorically? He was trying to instigate an important social movement, aiming for a radical change of conscience, heart, and he challenged his followers to emulate “critical yeast.”

“Left alone in a glass yeast is worthless” John Paul Lederach wisely reminds us.

I just returned home from the first ever On-Being Gathering hosted by Krista Tippett at the beautiful 1440 Multiversity campus in the heart of the Santa Cruz mountains. I’ve been challenged to go out and become “critical yeast” in the world. For three extraordinary days my crayons were retired and I submitted to wisdom of Krista Tippett’s heartfelt community of poets, writers, actors, and activist employed to stretch our imaginations and generate civil conversations among the participants.

I accept.

This gathering was the result of Krista Tippett’s unique vision to bring her community together, she says, “I went to #gathering2018 hoping to nourish, embolden, and accompany others; I leave nourished, emboldened, and accompanied. I went to call forth the leadership of others; they called forth mine. This, Seth Godin reminds us, is how generosity works. I am grateful beyond words.”

When I received the invitation to join the gathering I was floored, humbled, and terrified in exactly that order. I had to pinch myself daily because it felt like a dream. Most of us, nearly 400 participants from around the world, did not fully understand how we were chosen, or what we did to arrive at this destination, gratitude being the unifying emotion.

Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie opened our weekend with a beautiful Shabbat observation as the sun was setting in the evening sky. We broke bread as people braided together by love are wont to do. Krista welcomed us, acknowledging not only the destructive events in the world, but giving us permission to hold joy alongside our grief and dismay. We were left with the compelling poetry of David Whyte that accompanied us into our dreams. 

David Whyte not exactly thrilled to be dragged into yet another photo, but I quoted him, “put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into this picture,” see he’s trying not to laugh. 

I had to engage in a little self talk every morning before arriving at the community dining hall, gathering up a plate of beautifully prepared, locally grown food, and sit myself down next to a total stranger. 

While the introvert in me balked, what followed was no less than miraculous, I found myself forming and tending a budding community of new friends who gifted me with enormous generosity and wisdom. 

Padraig O’ Tuama writes, “so every morning, I kneel, waiting, making friends with the habit of listening, hoping that I’m being listened to. There, I greet God and my own disorder. I say hello to my chaos, my unmade decisions, my unmade bed, my desire and my trouble. I say hello to distraction and privilege, I greet the day and I greet my beloved bewildering Jesus.” 

I told Larry “I’ve found my people.” I can’t describe the feeling of being surrounded by 400 introverts with common interests, concerns, and a love for Krista Tippett. 

I was determined to say hello to Krista before the end of the conference, but this women from the south side of Chicago, carefully warned us not to corner Krista, or she would take us out. Truth.

So I waited for Krista to move away from any perceivable corners before tentatively making my approach. “Hi Krista, I’m Cheryl, and I just wanted to…” She jumped right in, smiling like a Tippett, and said, “Cheryl, I’m so glad you’re here.” Wait, what, she knows my name? (Yes, a huge name tag dangles across my breast, but still.)

She is a tiny person which was unexpected because she has such a huge presence. She is not only beautifully preserved, gracious, and kind but she won a Peabody Award, she’s a best selling author, and she knows my name. I’m pretty sure she wanted to invite me back to her room for a nightcap, but Chicago was lurking, and she didn’t want me to die.

There were so many sessions, workshops, live tapings, poetry readings, civil conversations to choose from that I was forced to refrain from long walks in the woods, soaking in the infinity pool, and massage therapy. #Sacrifices

I wanted to be as fully present as possible so I could return to my room at the end of the day, head spinning, heart stirred, and confront this uncomfortable feeling of inadequacy. I’d lounge on the bed with headphones, updating my notes while listening to a guided meditation, until overcome by sleep. Everyone should live like this, no televisions, spotty internet, and absolute quiet.

With the exception of one evening when I found my husband Larry wandering around the campus in the dark and I had to put him up for the night. He smuggled in wine and chocolate, which was the perfect accompaniment to my general distress, and served me coffee in bed the next morning. He’s not one for civil conversations, he left early, with the contraband stashed in his backpack.

In the words of Vincent Harding, “this was a multi racial, multi ethnic, multi religious,” multi generational group of seekers who sat shoulder to shoulder each day, transfixed by the unique ability of the speakers who seemed to move effortlessly in a broken world. They gave us much more than information, they gave us hope, and a new set of crayons.

John Paul Lederach said (this is from memory, not verbatim) “you have to add the yeast to the dough, let it rest, punch it down, break it apart, repeating the process several times before the dough is sufficiently prepared.” It is this eucharistic approach to life that so appeals to me.

Krista reminded me that anger might be a moral response to that which is unfolding around us but must be encountered with compassion and civil conversations. “You can be angry, but don’t become bitter,” warns Lederach. We were also reminded by John Paul that change is a slow process, “it takes as much time to get out of a conflict as it took to create it.”

We participated in circles of trust, looking for the humanity in each other, instead of political affiliation. I was challenged to do something that my future self will thank me for and to stretch my expectation of healing into decades instead of weeks. We all have wounds but those are places of vulnerability, “where you are open to the world, whether you want to or not.” 

Krista held up a light but it is our job to discern what this experience has called forth in each of us?

The sound
of a bell
still reverberating,
or a blackbird
from a corner
of a
Asking you
to wake
into this life
or inviting you
to one that waits.
Either way
takes courage

Here I’m laying out my entire genealogy, alluding to a common ancestry between the Johnson’s and the Weedman’s, she’s totally riveted. JK I told her we were both born in 1960. Does she look alarmed? 

I’m Living in the Gap, purposely coloring outside the lines, join me?

Notes to Self: I really wanted to say hi to Seth Godin, because “in a crowded marketplace, fitting in is a failure.” Damn – next time “I’ll hunt you down in the busy marketplace,” instead of being invisible.

The unexpected upside of this event was all the amazing people I encountered like Bonny, Vivian, Brent, Sherrill, Jill, Tom, Faith, Charlotte, Mary, Casper, Laurie, Cynthia, Judith, Amy, John, Rachel, Mitchell, Gina, Joanne, Alexandra, and so many more. 

The inspiring speakers: Krista Tippett, Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie, David Whyte, Naomi Shihab Nye, Padraig O’ Tuama, Marilyn Nelson, John Paul Lederach, Sarah Bradley, Alan Webb, Rami Nashashibi, Lucas Johnson, Maria Hinojosa, Seth Godin, Parker Palmer, Courtney Martin, Omid Safi, Mariah Helgeson, Sylvia Boorstein, Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona, Maria Popova, Natalie Batalha, Malka Fenyvesi, Frances Kissling, Lily Percy Ruiz, Sharon Salzberg, America Ferrera. (Send me a note if I forgot someone-memory admittedly subpar) 

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