Religion News: July 2022

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Although meditation is associated with the Buddha, the practice predates his life.

White Hall Meditation Practice Now Meeting at Tabor Presbyterian Church

They’ve moved to Crozet, but they’ve kept the name “White Hall Meditation” to honor the beginnings of the meditation practice nearly a decade ago. The group began in 2013 on the property of Robert and Sandy Hodge in White Hall, and met weekly there, except for months during the pandemic, when the group met on Zoom. When the Hodges sold their property, meditation continued via Zoom, with Hodge joining from his new home in Savannah. Laura Good, a musician who’s practiced, studied, and taught meditation for many years, co-teaches with Hodge at the in-person meetings at Tabor Presbyterian Church, with the Zoom option also used by members.

As always, the group welcomes anyone, beginner or veteran, to the weekly practice, as long as they share a dedication to the study and practice of insight meditation. White Hall Meditation is not affiliated with Tabor Presbyterian Church, but the group is grateful for the welcoming space to provide a spiritual home for those seeking contemplation and inner peace.  

The meetings are informal in terms of being open to everyone. They do have a bit of a structure, and the teachers are always mindful of time constraints. On a typical Wednesday night, the meeting begins with 30 minutes of guided meditation followed by a talk, and then questions and discussion. Questions are invited, and students can participate as much or as little as they want. Sometimes there are guest teachers from the area, traditional Buddhist chanting, poetry, or a story that deepens understanding of the teachings.

Anticipating newcomers to the group after its move, this summer’s sessions have focused on some of the basics. In a mid-June meeting, Laura Good gave a brief history of the world’s experience with meditation (the word itself comes from the Latin “meditatum”—“to ponder”). No one truly knows when this spiritual practice began, but there are images dating from 5,000 to 3,500 BCE of what appear to be people in meditation, sitting in peace with their eyes closed. Written accounts are from the Hindu tradition in about 1500 BCE, and several different types are described in writings from Buddhist India and Taoist China in the 5th and 6th centuries BCE, around the time of the historical Buddha.

There are forms that include physical movement like Tai Chi, qi gong and some types of yoga.  Christians embraced similar practices, like centering prayer and spiritual contemplation, and Islam and Judaism both historically used forms of spiritual meditation. There’s a complete discussion of the history, as well as the many different kinds of meditation, on the group’s web site, whitehallmeditation.org.

Insight meditation (also called Vipassana in the Buddhist Theravadan tradition) includes many of the types. It’s the oldest of Buddhist meditation practices and is a direct and gradual cultivation of mindfulness or awareness. It works in a way similar to how physical exercise works in training the body. Practitioners use mindfulness, paying attention moment to moment to what is, and thereby gathering clarity and wisdom for every situation. Beginners (and veterans) can start by watching and focusing on their breath or being aware of their senses, noticing every thought that comes up, and welcoming any feeling that arises with friendliness and non-judgment. Over time, meditation practitioners learn to experience the world in a new way, with subtle but remarkable changes.

That was certainly true for Good. In a recent session, responding to questioning from White Hall Meditation founder Robert Hodge, she examined the changes in her life since she began to meditate. Good, a successful musician, said she has become less reactive (that’s a word often used by meditators to describe a period of calm consideration instead of a programmed response to words or actions that come up in daily life.) At the beginning, she said, she thought the practice made her less ambitious, but later understood she was simply becoming more discerning about which projects to pursue. She believes she’s become more able to see the best outcome for all concerned. She’s far more aware of the potential effects of what she says and does, and she sometimes loses awareness of being a “self” apart from the world. Since Good is a twin, she said she may already have had a slightly different understanding of her identity.

On another evening, founder Robert Hodge described his path to meditation. He said he was always a spiritual seeker, but his profession as a doctor inspired him to look for ways to help his patients with high blood pressure that didn’t involve high levels of medication. Inspired by his reading––and later, some chance events––he came to believe in the power of mindfulness to address stress and to help people understand their own minds. It’s added much to his life, he said, and he believes it continues to help him grow in generosity, patience, kindness and compassion. 

Although day-to-day meditation is solitary, there are many benefits to being part of a community of like-minded people, called a sangha, who support your practice. There are other advantages to the White Hall Meditation community, Hodge said: a focus on the teachings of the Buddha, as well as additional teachings from other religious traditions; experienced teachers; detailed written summaries of each talk, and opportunities to ask questions and meet one-on-one with the teachers. 

White Hall Meditation has no fixed fees, but welcomes monetary contributions as well as volunteers to help maintain the sangha. Meetings are every Wednesday at 7:30 at Tabor Presbyterian Church.

The White Hall Meditation web site has many more resources, including complete biographies of the teachers, guides for meditation, a collection of the talks through the years, and descriptions of the different forms of meditation. Newcomers can reach teachers and ask questions about the practice through the site: whitehallmeditation.org.

Empty Bowls Raise Funds for Food

With the help of local volunteers, artists and businesses, Holy Cross Episcopal Church was able to contribute $3,000 to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank from its first “Empty Bowl” fundraiser June 19.

Happy diners enjoyed the inaugural “empty bowl’ event at Holy Cross

This was about twice as much as they’d expected, said Barbara Sherman, one of the organizers of the event. Happy diners—who’d each paid $20 for their chance to fill a bowl—had to make a difficult choice between chili, gazpacho, lentil soup, apple curry mint soup, Austrian goulash and pork ribs and black bean soup, plus a choice of homemade bread. Seconds were not discouraged and there was ample nourishment for all.

Sherman said the generosity of local businesses was key to the evening’s success. Blue Mountain Brewery donated the chili, Batesville Market the gazpacho. Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie and Shantina Hash of the Lovingston Cafe baked the garlic cheese pizza and sourdough bread, respectively, with the Lovingston Cafe throwing in a bag of enough individual pats of butter to serve 60 people. Martins in Waynesboro donated the gift certificates that allowed the church to buy a huge sheet cake there, one side chocolate, and one vanilla.

Dinah Ainsley, a volunteer, serves dessert. Photo: Marion Kanour.

Church members stepped up, too. Pastor Marion Kanour made the two huge pots of lentil soup: one with turkey sausage and one without, as well as donating the drinks and the compostable paper products. Renee Willis made pork rib and black bean soup and finished it with a garlic-lime drizzle. 

A couple of women made soups that reflected their rich ethnic backgrounds. Ika Joiner made Austrian goulash and Fiona Hamilton-Little dished out her cold curry soup, a favorite of the crowd as well as her native England, from a white china tureen. 

Each patron picked out a handmade bowl, crafted with care by local potters, including church member Tam Smith, who fired up 60 of them; as well as making the pottery vases that held flowers for the tables. Other potters––Elise Lauterbach and Lyn Camp, also made bowls for the table. Ceramic artists Jake Johnson and Ted Sutherland––both affiliated with Waynesboro Clay Studio, made one-of-a-kind sculptures for the silent auction, as did Camp and Kevin Crowe.

Barbara Sherman, left, and Tam Smith helped put together the Holy Cross “empty bowl” fundraiser. Photo: Marian Kanour.

As soon as the event was announced, checks started arriving in the church’s post office box, Sherman said. “It wasn’t unusual for us to open the mail and find a $100 check, whether or not the donor planned to come. It was really an outpouring of generosity.”

The church, in partnership with Emmanuel Episcopal in Greenwood, depends heavily on the Food Bank for supplies for the “Bread Fund,” which has grown to include fresh produce, meat, staples and canned goods as well as bread. The program has been distributing food every month for several decades from a building on the Holy Cross campus. No one is sure exactly how long the bread fund has existed, but volunteers have been handing out boxes and bags of food for 10, 15 and 20 years. Many food charities gear up in the summer for the greater needs of the winter, when people no longer have their gardens, and often have to make a choice between groceries and heat. 

For those who missed the inaugural event, Sherman is pretty sure there will be another one. “Why not?” she asked. “It was for a good cause and everyone had fun.” 

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