Sunday, August 13, 2017

Retreat in the Cloud Forest

It is a treat to be contributing to a blog of such creative and meaningful projects! The summer of 2017 is proving to be an important moment to be of service and I appreciate the role that the Pickett Endowment has played in making that possible.

Starting in June, I have been supporting the development of an interfaith center in Huatusco, Mexico. Over the last ten years, I have been a part of a community in the state of Veracruz, Mexico protecting a Cloud Forest bioregion. This community provides education regarding sustainable agriculture and has planted thousands of trees in the region, promoting the regeneration of an important ecosystem here in Mexico.

I first came to live in Mexico two years ago, to blend my interest in spiritual practices and teachings with nature conservation. That work has blossomed into the creation of a retreat center that opened this summer. My role in the formation of this retreat center has been two fold. First, it is to provide a Quaker framework to our decision making process. I work with our leadership team to create an equitable and respectful environment through which to base all decisions going forward. Second, I am forming the first year’s program design and schedule in order to reflect the values of my faith and my community.

My first opportunity to step towards these goals was during our inaugural event. The vision of this event was to create an experience that honored and exposed participants to many faith traditions. In advance of the weekend, I was nervous about how it would turn out. While spiritual leaders from many traditions, from Buddhist to Celtic, and from Sikh to traditions honoring the sacred feminine had gathered, we did not have many people registered. What if it turned out to be a big flop?!

On opening night, over 100 people gathered to celebrate the space and to begin an important dialogue about the role of all religious faiths in the healing and protection of our earth. Here is our group just before saying goodbye on the final day of the inauguration in front of the retreat center:

The space is designed with eight pillars that lead towards a skylight, signaling the many paths that lead to God.

I had the honor of welcoming the participants on Friday night. I initiated the sequence of interfaith ceremonies with the Quaker tradition. Every tradition offered a symbol for an alter we created. These symbols will remain in the center for years to come, reminding us to create experiences that are inclusive and in the service of Spirit. For the Quaker tradition there is a carving saying “Welcome Friends.”

Perhaps the most touching ceremony for me was led by a French Canadian priest who serves those without resources in this community. Representing the Catholic faith, he presented five colorful squares, each with a symbol of Catholicism. One was a pair of dirty shoes. It was an invitation to step inside the experience of the other, and to treat all with love and compassion, as Jesus would have done.

The connection with the land here is so important. It speaks to us in ways that people can’t. Outside the retreat center, we built a spiral of Chicalaba trees. These trees grow to be so large that they create an supportive canopy for much of the cloud forest flora and fauna. Under it’s shade birds that are going extinct find refuge and plants seldom seen grow again. We have planted hundreds of Chicalabas nearby but the retreat was a chance for many people to meet one for the first time.

We closed the inauguration with a circle dance that was taught for healing in Mexico, after the use of nuclear waste caused great harm to many communities. The dance was a recognition of the healing power of trees in the face of disaster. Here you can see us dancing!


  1. Thank you Nora for your posting...It is obvious that you are honing and using your leadership skills in your involvement with the interfaith center. I would be interested in how your role in providing "a Quaker framework to our decision making process" is being received...Mike Moyer, Pickett Endowment Coordinator

  2. It's a good question! In general, I think that bringing in a Quaker framework is about promoting a consensus process what that might not be the norm for people. Of course, speaking out of silence is too!