The Master of Religious Education (MRE) program at the Unification Theological Seminary (UTS) is a prime example of how religious studies are pioneering new roads in the implementation and practice of both teaching and learning and also interfaith peace building.

I was born in the Netherlands, stereotypically known as the land of windmills, tulips, bicycles and cheese. Among intellectual types, the Netherlands is also known as the land of Rembrandt and Van Gogh, of Erasmus and Spinoza.

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Hyung Jin Moon, son of UTS Founder Rev. Sun Myung Moon, guided 40 beginners through a course of meditation and reflection at Barrytown, August 19-21.

The group was composed of Unificationists local to Barrytown for the most part, but also from as far away as Alabama, Texas and California. Participants' age span was from 17 up to, well, retirement age, with over one-third in their late teens and early twenties. Several husband-wife and parent-child family groupings contributed to a warm and intimate feeling.

For this reporter, the term "intimate" is apt to capture many dimensions of the retreat's flavor. Intimacy means closeness that is comfortable, delightful, self-disclosing and based upon deep trust.

Mr. Moon opened us all to an intimate reality. He focused on three themes, the unity of mind and body, husband and wife, and parents and children. He spoke of unity but looking back I recollect something deeper than unity, something that draws us into unity. That something was, intimacy.

"Gently return to the breath," he intoned in the guided meditations. Allow the mind to be intimate with the body, through the shared touch of the breath. In the breath the mind and body touch the breathing cosmos and the source of the breath. Sitting still for 30 minutes in five practice sessions, we became intimate with the air and sounds of the UTS campus on a warm summer day, and the cool stone of the Interfaith Chapel floor. We became intimate with each other, sitting amid the gorgeous afternoon lights shining through the stained glass. Most wonderful for us, we became intimate with the teacher.

How did this come about? Yes, it was Mr. Moon's casual yet enthusiatic, joyful teaching style, and uplifting content, weaving classical Eastern thought with everyday life. For instance, how to employ Buddhist mental shifts to deal with a traffic jam. Yes, it was him meditating with us, fighting the same fight to control the mind. Yes, it was him experimenting patiently with the microphones to get the best sound. It was him walking with the group, embracing those who came up to him, allowing others the freedom to walk apart as if, yes, that's what you're supposed to do. It was us eating together, standing in line together for the great UTS cuisine (this time all vegie). It was everyone together pitching in to reset the carpet and chairs in the chapel before Sunday service, with no one knowing exactly how they were supposed to go but everyone enjoying a collective thrill simply doing it. And here this young teacher was with us, making that final micro-inch adjustment on each chair to get it straight with the others.

But for me there was icing on this cake. It had to do with time. Mr. Moon gave us time to be "one-on-one with God," to be bored if we liked, to talk or be silent (three hours of silence each day), to journal, to read, to hang out, to… oh my goodness, to sleep. The retreat had no agenda after dinner. Did you hear that, God? No agenda after dinner! Get to bed early was the schedule, in order to be fresh at 5 a.m.

The message I received was this: you are trusted. As Hyung Jin Nim said at the outset, you are adults. The assumption was that if given ownership of our own time, within the context of the meditation, practices and purposes to which we were exposed, we would make wise choices, better choices than any director would make for us.

This was a subtle liberation. A quiet revolution, if you like. And it allowed me to experience the greatest intimacy, that cosmic sabbath with my mind. The words of Father Moon, "the conscience is before God," illuminate this experience.

And there were the Labyrinth walks. These were unplanned, optional, but most of us took them. (So much of this retreat was unplanned, optional! I ended up being the coordinator, but there was so little to coordinate! The retreat was coordinating me! This was aided, I have to admit, by Mr. Moon's 4 a.m. incursions into my room, with his "how are we doing today, gentlemen?" greeting. With bedside intimacy, he would introduce ideas for the schedule, completely open to discussing whether they would work or not.

Back to the Labyrinth--the creation of Gillian Corcoran. We walked it on the afternoon of the first day and on the evening of the second. It was that evening walk that did everyone in. We had been practicing meditative walking in the chapel and on the campus trails. Maybe this prepared us for that evening walk. But thirty or forty people walking in meditation simultaneously on a Labyrinth, as the darkness fell, with torches and candles burning, illuminating the faces of Buddha, Francis, and various angels and illustrations, illuminating each others' shapes and forms, took this reporter somewhere that I've never been.

I've always felt as a Unificationist that positions and titles really don't count. This is certainly Father Moon's teaching. And yet it isn't often that we really arrive at that point of intimacy in Christ to be just brothers and sisters, one family. But there we were, in that state, and Hyung Jin Nim, serving as teacher, was one of us. He taught unificationism, not divisionism, and he taught it by doing it. Forget being a master, he was saying. Being a master is a trap; it narrows you; it stops you from growing. Just be a beginner. Start again.

Mr. Moon, who is a graduate student in religion at Harvard University, taught from the manuscript for his next book, to be entitled, "Chun Hwa Dang," which means, "The House of Heaven's Harmony." It is expected to be published later this year. It is expected as well that Mr. Moon will conduct future retreats; the schedule will be announced on this site as well in advance as possible.

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