Oct 1st: Where Two or More Are Gathered: The Sacred Art of Relationships, with Caryl & Jay Casbon.
A Part of the Series:
Where Two or More Are Gathered: The Sacred Art of Relationships with Caryl & Jay Casbon. Series: Postures for a Christ-Centered Life A Spacious Christianity, First Presbyterian Church of Bend, Oregon. Scripture: Matthew 22:37.
Caryl and Jay Casbon share insights from their pilgrimage to Israel and interviews with retired couples for their book “Side by Side” which focuses on bringing faith into daily living and relationships.
almost five years ago, right outside in the parking lot of this church, Carol and I had a conversation with two members of this congregation, Kathy and DiCamillo. That conversation led the four of us to embark upon a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. One morning on this trip, I found myself at the Walker Wailing Wall in Jerusalem praying amidst hundreds of voices of observant Jews weeping davening, and in some cases, shouting their prayers and apparent unbridled, chaotic devotion. Despite the incessant roar, I was somehow able to pray deeply, almost as if I had a prayer tail when gently pushing me. As I leaned forward against that ancient wall. Suddenly, the cacophony disappeared. As I found myself in a space of inner silence. I then heard a crystal clear voice in tone deep within me, not from my head. Don’t overthink it, Jay, just know that I am. For me, that moment was the beginning of a journey that has led me back to all of you right here, at First Presbyterian to claim and share a fertile circle of experience. During our holy land pilgrimage. The four of us also made our way to the Mount of Beatitudes, a hill on the carizon Plateau by the Sea of Galilee. We visited the site where it is believed that Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, which contained the Beatitudes. One of my spiritual teachers, Dietrich Bonhoeffer claimed the sermon on the mount as the core touchstone of the ministry of Jesus. When Bonhoeffer addressed a Lutheran church congregation during the dark time of Germany in 1942, he explained that Jesus used this radical sermon as an explanation that God’s world included the world of people, relationships, and all of nature, and outright integration of faith right into the realm where each of us lives every day, and where all of us are related in the body of the universal Christ. Bonhoeffer inspired us to write the 15 beatitudes of the mayor of marriage and our book, which focuses on bringing the fullness of our faith into our daily living of our relationships, living completely in God’s being with the people closest to us. When we returned from this trip, I had a dream that I shape that shaped our next five years actually, it was more of a commission that we should film interview and write about retired couples and then began a ministry by offering our findings through a book, film clips, retreats, and small group work. We bought a Winnebago motorhome traveled over 10,000 miles across North America, immersing ourselves in extended three day interviews with couples and eventually publishing our findings in the side by side, the sacred art of couples with wisdom and love. It was released last June. It was a rare and treasured privilege to spend this unique time with couples in the privacy of their homes. We are here today because of this dream. And all that we have learned along the road. Our marriage has benefited immensely from our encounters with these loving couples.
With Jay, sharing his story of the Wailing Wall brought back my memories of that trip to Israel, it was one of the best trips of our lives. And when as we arrived in the Tel Aviv airport, it was Christmas Eve of all things. And as we got off the airplane, there were about 600 Jewish children, Orthodox children in little black suits and side side curls. And they were running and screaming through the airport. And we couldn’t keep our eyes off them and they ran and what they did was they they came to this Torah that was hanging on a pillar and they jumped up and touched it, and total glee. And we looked at each other and we realized we have truly been transported to a different world. And having just gotten off the airplane from the secular secular scene of the US airports with CNN droning in the background, we knew we’d been transported to a different land. Also, while we were in Jerusalem, We noticed that the traffic almost disappears on the Sabbath. And our elevators in our hotel stopped working and they start the food was served cold on the Sabbath because they wanted the workers to have the day off and relax. And what happened for us was we realized there was a longing with us to experience our spirituality more deeply integrated in to our daily living and into our relationship, and we felt we felt envious. So when we returned home and set off on our RV adventure, to interview a couple’s one of the most important questions we carried with us was, how can our marriage where two or more are gathered, powerfully embody and support our spiritual lives and be held as a sacred art? As Christians, we know the greatest of the commandments is to love one another, and love God. And where else is it more important to do so? Yet our marriages and our family lives are hard. And sometimes we actually find them the most difficult places to exercise our capacity to love. They can bring out the worst and the best of us and they certainly are humbling. The bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry claims that the opposite of love is not hate, but it’s unbridled self centeredness, and that we are living in a narcissistic culture where individualism is worshipped, quoting from Rabbi Hillel, who some people believe Jesus actually studied with him, he was Jesus rabbi. He said, If I’m not for myself, who will be for me, but if I’m only for myself, what am I loves, seeks goodness and the welfare of others, not just ourselves, and our relationships are a daily opportunity to practice this.
Yet, when Thomas Merton was asked what it was like for him living in the monastery, he said, I stand up, and I fall down, and I stand up and I fall down. This is true of our relationships are well, as well. They are truly humbling. So in that spirit, we would like to share with you three of our beatitudes for couples which captures some of the wisdom that we gained about relationships on our road trip. And the first one is the dance between me and we bless it is the couple who dance with the tension between me and we, for they will know companioning Without loss of self.
Most couples privately express some trepidation about after years of working and traveling independently in their careers, about retiring together to the smaller confines of their homes. We start asking questions like well, how much time alone or together is a good thing? How do we negotiate our privacy needs and balance them with our needs for closeness? So how do we balance our needs for space and autonomy with our needs for intimacy, relationships need and thrive with strong boundaries, and we often have to revisit them. It took Jay and me some time to work out this intricate dance between me and we too much me, leaves us isolated. Too much we can feel like we’re losing oneself. In our interview with Rick and Marcy Jackson. Rick addressed this dance when commenting, the me and the Wii has been a changing dance as a couple. We are both alone. And then together, rather than a mosh of togetherness. We’ve had to learn to lead and then follow with each other. While many retired couples downsize their homes, we found that we actually needed more space to create separate offices for privacy when aging.
There’s this natural draw towards more interiority and solitude as we get older. Respecting Jays introverted nature and need for solitude and silence, as well as my extroverted temperament and leading towards community has been a critical part of our dance. We now observes days of silence when we agree not to talk until dinner. This simple practice is incredibly renewing. Also, with more freedom and time on hand, we find it a new level of intimacy as we begin to slow down. Offer one one another more presence and attention and study books together. Practice centering prayer at the end of the day, and sharing deeper conversations about growing or growing Just we’ve learned to make the most of our time with these practices in this intricate dance of me and we another beatitude I want to lift up is blessing is the couple who welcomes the stranger for they shall find wonder and encouragement on their growing edges. It’s It’s no secret that over the life of a relationship, we undergo massive developmental changes brought on by children and family losses and health challenges, work demands, and the natural evolution of moving through the stages of life. We interviewed two rabbis Laurie Rutenberg and Gary Schoenberg, who introduced us to the conceptual framework that became this beatitude. They married after attending rabbinical school together in Israel in their 20s and soon created a home in Portland, Oregon, where they call Gesher, where they have welcomed over 8000 unaffiliated Jews to sit down to three hours, Shabbat meals, and other Jewish ceremonies. Their commission was to create a village where Jews could learn the rituals and customs of their faith by welcoming many strangers. They quoted the Babylonian Talmud, which claims welcoming guests is even more important than communing with God. Welcoming the Stranger means extending hospitality to the new, the unknown, the very foreigners in our midst. On an inner level, we feel estranged from time to time, from ourselves and from each other as we naturally evolve, grow and change. illness can function as the initiation into a new stage of life, and instantly change us. For example, eight years ago, I underwent treatment for cancer and develop a life threatening infection. During the hospital stay in critical care. I realized I was done with my 40 plus year career in higher education that had defined my life. I instinctively knew I needed to retire as fast as possible to survive this ordeal, cancer eliminated the props of my own identity, and no longer served me well. Suddenly, I morphed into a stranger to myself and to Carol, this setup set us off on a journey to reimagine our identities and our marriage, which evolved a willingness to listen deeply to where life was calling us now, and surrender what was once so important.
Yes, that change that Jay has talked about, really, it did take us some time to adjust to, and we really had to be together in that. The final beatitude we wish to share is, bless it as a couple who cares about the others needs as much as their own, for they shall enjoy the fruits of mutuality.
This beatitude addresses with Bishop curry names. We need to find ways to balance our self centeredness, and learn how to hold out for the goodness for both of us as as a way of practicing mutuality. I really have not thought much about the word mutuality until we began to witness it in action in a couple stories. For instance, Sally hare and Jim Rogers met in the workplace in South Carolina. And their story demonstrates this notion of mutuality and how they decided where to live. They live, Sally had owned a home in near the ocean. And they met later in life where and so she was ensconced in this home two blocks from the sea. While Jim had grown up in the mountains of North Carolina, and he felt most comfortable in that environment. When they fell in love, they had to decide where to live. And they sought a way to bring together their different geographical preferences, so that each person his needs were valued. They they held this question quite a while and eventually came up with a very creative approach. They found that they decided to build onto her beach house, a mountain cabin, that was spacious and it looked like something you would live in in North Carolina. And I’m bringing those two things together. They both Express being very happy with their choice. They arrived at mutuality.
And yet they take time to make their decisions. When you do decide the decision sticks because you’re both in agreement, the Win Win is especially present when we can find joy in our partners receiving good things from the decision. We’re truly in this together.
To conclude, we quote Bishop Curry One more time. Love is the firm commitment to act for the well being of another. When we do so, our relationships where two or more are gathered, become a sacred art and a spiritual community, where we invite spirit into our hearts and homes and practice the profound teaching of our tradition, and the greatest commandment, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. The second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor’s as thyself, on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Thank you for this opportunity and for joining us today.