February 8, 2009

Sacred Circles 2009: A Celebration of Women’s Spirituality.

Sacred Circles: A Celebration of Women’s Spirituality, 2009

Friday, February 13, and Saturday, February 14, 2009
Washington National Cathedral

The simplicity of love is to do it.
Come strengthen your ability to love in this era of possibility.

This interfaith conference is about bringing awareness to the amazing acts of love and compassion, inspired by a variety of spiritual capacities, performed by women around the world. It is about bringing that which is hidden to light, about collective witnessing of the individual power to sew seeds of peace. This conference is about personal story and lived experience; it is not theoretical or ideological. The examples of both ancient and living faith traditions connect us back to our roots, where we all find ourselves at home with each other. Through this inspiration, we see that all of us can access our own spiritual power, that our personal stories are how we transform the world.

– Grace Ogden, Sacred Circles Convener, Senior Program Manager, Cathedral College

The first time I met Grace Ogden, I found myself winding up a narrow spiral staircase to find her nestled in a cozy light-filled office, framed with Gothic windows looking out on Woodley Road in northwest Washington, DC. I was there, at the Episcopal Washington National Cathedral to interview her about a women’s spirituality conference she created 13 years ago called Sacred Circles, a conference she now runs bi-annually at the cathedral.

Grace has striking blue eyes and silky brown hair that she frequently tucks behind her ears as she talks. Raised in southern Ontario as an Episcopalian, she now studies with Sharon Salzberg of the Insight Meditation Society and calls herself a Buddhapalian. She produced the first Sacred Circles Conference as a volunteer in 1996, which sold out with 1,200 participants. Due to the grass-roots popularity of the event, Washington National Cathedral hired her to produce the conference bi-annually.

My interview quickly became more of a conversation, as Grace and I realized we had a lot in common – a burning interest in meditation practice, experience writing for spiritual magazines, a love of sailing, the desire to do something big and beneficial in the world. By the end of my visit, I was telling Grace about my ex-Catholic father and trying to explain about my ecumenical childhood (when asked, she informed me that the noun version of “ecumenical” is ecumenism, with the emphasis on the “u”.) By the end of our conversation she had also invited me to serve on the planning committee for Sacred Circles. It was an auspicious meeting.

My experience helping to organize and participate in Sacred Circles has been fruitful in many ways. This interfaith conference is about bringing together diverse women from a variety of cultural backgrounds who practice anything from Islam to Judaism to Hindu sacred chant, from Christianity to Paganism to innovative and universal spiritual paths. Together, these women share and witness each other’s actions in the world. The cathedral makes for a stunning backdrop for this one-of-a-kind gathering – stepping into the space is like moving outside of time into a realm of swimmingly bright colors, graceful stone carvings, and soaring columns. Begun in 1907 and completed in 1990, the building’s architecture is based on that of Gothic European cathedrals; the space inspires transcendence. The Sacred Circles Conference helps to further the cathedral’s mission of serving as “a national house of prayer for all people.”

Past conferences have included teachings and lectures by Zainab Salbi of Women for Women International, best-selling author Marianne Williamson, actress Ellen Burstyn, Pumla Goboda-Madikazela of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. This year’s conference, scheduled for Valentine’s Day Weekend, will open and close with an invocation by Cherokee Episcopal bishop Rev. Carol Gallagher. The weekend will continue with a keynote address by author and religion scholar Karen Armstrong, along with Elizabeth Lesser of the Omega Institute, Insight Meditation teacher Sharon Salzburg, Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman, Afghan women’s empowerment activist Sakena Yacoobi, and Tibetan Buddhist teacher Lama Tsultrim Allione. The weekend includes yoga classes, dancing, a choir concert, a community art project (the creative results of which are destined for the nursing staff at Georgetown University Hospital), guided meditations, and group prayer sessions.

If you are interested in learning more about Sacred Circles, visit their website, facebook page, ning page, or their beliefnet.org community posting.

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