Advent retreat

My fellow YAVs and our chaplain, Trina, ventured into the wilderness that is Western Massachusetts for a retreat mid-December. We were off the grid with no cell service in Ware, Ma, which brought lots of fun conversations:

Our food justice educator, Becky: Where are you guys going?

YAVs: Ware

Becky: Yeah. Where?

YAVs: Yeah, Ware. W-A-R-E.

Becky: Oh. Where’s Ware?

Still don’t know, I didn’t have my phone, Becky.

The Agape Community is a Catholic community located on 32-acres of woodlands and founded in 1982. I pulled their mission statement from their website, agapecommunity.org, to provide a better understanding of their values:

“The Agape vision is an alternative vision of peace with the Earth and its inhabitants through deeply sustainable practices, public witness, and advocacy for a world that is carbon threatened. Ecumenical and interfaith in outreach and practice, we focus on daily prayer, evangelical simplicity, and nonviolent witness in the world. Members of the community engage in actions against war, peace vigils, and non-cooperation with institutional and eco-violence. We attempt to bring an integrated vision of peace, social justice, and eco-theology to our gospel based nonviolent practice.”

The community has two houses and a hermitage. The main six-bedroom house (where we stayed) is built from wood off of their land and is heated by two wood-burning stoves and proudly posted signs in the restroom promoting their eco-friendliness towards saving water, such as “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” We’ve tried to implement this practice at our home, but Chris said, “Ew, no.” The second house is a straw bale house with solar energy, a compost toilet, and other sustainable features, and the home of our hosts, Suzanne and Brayton.

Our new friend, Dixon, woke us each morning with a singing bowl to call us to morning prayers. We played lots of fun, different musical instruments and incorporated some chanting. We moved firewood around and ate all of our meals together. Brayton had just gotten home from delivering bales of straw to Standing Rock and ha spent a little time there, so we were able to hear some of his stories. On Saturday morning, Ivy and I hiked out to the Quabbin Reservoir (where all our water in Boston is sourced from) in 17 degree weather, and then spent the afternoon helping prepare for the Advent service that evening. Approximately 50 people showed up for the service, and we all crammed into the house. We had a bonfire (with more chanting), and then came inside (and did more chanting). Brayton had received a container of water from an Indian chief woman at Standing Rock. We ended the service by repeating one line of a song (not chanting this time) and using the water to anoint ourselves or one another. We spent the rest of the night eating and drinking and being merry. We woke up the next day, had one more service (with chanting:), and then headed on home.

It was all-together a very unique weekend that allowed the four of us to take a step back and experience a different approach to life. We’ve incorporated some of their eco-friendly practices, hopefully, are now better stewards of our beautiful Earth.

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