Last night fourteen of us sat around a candle-lit table in the 7 o’clock darkness of the approaching solstice here at the end of a dirt road in rural Maine. As we have been doing for the last 10 years, for two hours we shared our lives over food and drink, in laughter, and in prayer.
From the earliest stages, the group called itself The Red Tent, borrowing the name from Anita Diamant’s 1997 best-selling novel of biblical times (learn more about that here).
From a core of five or so choristers from the local Catholic Church, who wanted more to eat and more to drink of their own shared spirituality than they were able to partake of at Mass, the group has grown in diversity and numbers. Most of the original group of “petitioners” have continued to attend church, are still in the choir and continue to identify with the “tribe,” the family, as one of the women termed their relationship with the church.
We women have worked through the years at home and in the communities in our area, have become widowed, endured life-threatening illnesses, have cared for and lost parents, have raised children and now have grandchildren. Our ages range from 40 to 82, and religious expression ranges from active Catholic, to agnostic, to completely unchurched, but most, having had infant baptism and subsequent adult choice, consider themselves Christian.
One recent addition to the group, a white-haired grand- and great-grandmother who came for the first time after the sudden death of her middle-aged son, wrote a succinct summary of what The Red Tent means to her and which she read to us last night. To wit:
Under the tent my sisters all sit.
Some of us wear jeans, some of us skirts.
Some wear make-up, and some do not.
Some are dark-haired, some are not.
Some can sing like angels, and some can even whistle.
But under it all we are one, in our love and sisterhood, always there for one another.
The support we have for one another is unconditional and respectful and above all, loving. In January 2015 we will mark 11 years together with a pot luck supper, opened with prayer, and closed the same way, by passing around a cup of wine in a vintage tea cup that belonged to the mother of two of our sisters, from which we all drink. The thought behind the ritual is that the essence of everything we have shared at the meeting––prayer, talk, laughter, tears, food and drink––is distilled and contained in the cup we pass, one to the other in peace and love.