In the company of about 65 other men, I attended the UU Men’s Fellowship annual Spring Renewal at Camp de Benneville Pines last weekend. The UUMF was founded in the 1980s by Rev. Tom Owen-Towle and a group of interested men at First UU Church San Diego, and remains affiliated with that congregation. It has spawned similar groups at other California UU churches, and the Spring Renewal enables the men involved (and friends) to gather as a larger brotherhood. (Click HERE for more info.)
The weekend included a mix of exploration and sharing in large and small groups, workshops and activities, and ritual/worship. One way these came together for me was in the sweat lodge ceremony I did with five other men on Saturday afternoon. In this dark, sacred circle we shared hopes and prayers, chanted in English and Sanskrit, and felt the steam open both our pores and spirits as we took turns ladling water onto the heated rocks piled in the center pit. This was all terrific. But it was an occurrence outside the lodge that touched me the most.
As has been the case for years, several men had assembled the sweat lodge that morning using a wooden frame and fabric coverings that one guy stores in his garage and hauls up in his truck. The finished structure was pretty tight, but as the mountain winds picked up a couple of chill drafts found their way through seams. “Sam,” the facilitator of the sweat, noticed these and called the locations outside the lodge to “Bob” (I’m using pseudonyms because confidentiality is one watchword of the Renewal)—and in moments tarps covered the gaps and made the space more airtight. And I was filled with gratitude.
Sam and Bob are two pillars of the UU Men’s Fellowship. Their love for this ministry is plain as day—and they wanted this particular experience to be right for the participants. And in that moment of quick responsiveness, Bob embodied for me the spirit of fatherly support that so often takes a back seat to competition. There was no manly rivalry here. No drive to plug the gaps better than someone else. No performing to please a superior. Just unconditional loving-care.
And the fact that Bob was outside the circle made his action extra special to me. He didn’t benefit directly. Rather he was willing to stand at the perimeter and be watchful, aware, alert to the needs of those inside. Guardian… custodian… elder in the most dignified sense of the term.
Sometimes love takes the form of solace. Here it took the form of solution. I think it often tends to in men. And for this I am thankful.
-Peter Farriday, Ministerial Intern