Monday, June 3, 2013

Weaving the Purple Web

Originally written for the Faithful Fools' monthly e-newsletter.

Kay Jorgensen beginning a Street Retreat
“My name is Alex, and walking the streets is my spiritual practice.” “My name is Amber. I’ve helped in soup kitchens with my school, and I want to see what it’s like to eat in one.” “My name is Hideki. I want to see how life on the streets is different in your country.” “My name is Maria. I’m kinda nervous, but I trust my teacher when he says this will be a good experience.” “I’m Hannah. Our group came to San Francisco to volunteer. I’m looking forward to reflecting on what we’ve been doing.”

We start each Street Retreat by introducing ourselves, and how we came to be on Retreat that day. As each of us presents ourselves, we toss a purple ball of yarn across the circle to the next participant. A beautiful web is woven between participants’ hands, as we build tangible connections with each other.

People of all sorts, from all over the world have joined the web in our fifteen years of retreating into the streets. In just this past year, we have walked the streets with: eighth-graders from a girls’ school in Oakland, Unitarian Universalist teens coming of age in the Pacific Central District, a UCC youth group from Boston, high-schoolers from a continuation school in Hayward, college students from St. John’s/ St. Ben’s in Minnesota, Pacific U in Oregon, U.C. Merced, University of San Francisco, and Tokyo, Japan, as well as the myriad people who join us on the third Saturday monthly.

This past month, we also hosted a Street Retreat in Portland, in collaboration with the Heart of Wisdom Zen Community, the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Portland, and the Sisters of the Road Cafe. Five of us retreated that day - some were experiencing streets in their city in a new way, others of us experienced the difference between a day on Portland’s streets and our own here in San Francisco. I greatly appreciate getting to witness, first hand, innovative programs like the Sisters of the Road, where food is served cafe-style to guests who pay as little as $1.50 or provide volunteer service for their meal, or Right To Dream Too, a houseless community who work together to provide a dry resting place for up to 90 people on a formerly empty lot downtown. Extending the web into other communities through the Hometown Street Retreat program allows us to share ideas and experience and continue learning from each other. We have hosted Retreats in Sacramento, Bakersfield, Long Beach, Richmond, CA, Portland, Detroit, Fort Worth, St. Louis, Ft. Lauderdale, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Managua.

A Street Retreat in Managua, Nicaragua
The purple web, and the connection it represents, is reassuring as we prepare to walk out into the unknown of a day on the streets. By now, it connects us to over 4,000 people who have made Street Retreats with the Faithful Fools; it also connects us to those who will Retreat in the future - possibly thousands of more people! As I reflect on our society’s major failings, such as homelessness, addiction, poverty, war, discrimination, violence, and climate change, I am buoyed by the recognition of these thousands of allies who have joined us in reflection on the streets.

This purple web is a great foundation for us to continue to build our community upon.

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