It was 2002 when I met Marilyn Gehant, founding mother of SoulSpace for coffee and a muffin at a Corner Bakery located between our homes, and for the eleven years that I have known and worked with her, this how it has always been: Marilyn makes a mission of finding the middle space where women meet and share, literally and spiritually.
Her mission, and her ability to create middle ground for other women is, I believe, Marilyn’s divine gift. And the women who have been active in, or just passing through, Soul Space, have experienced this just by being in her presence. Marilyn is a soul space maker. She taught so many of us how to create it for ourselves, first in small group settings in living and dining rooms across Chicago and then, in larger, more traditional sacred spaces - synagogues, mosques and churches - for Sunday afternoon themed-retreats with panelists, table discussions, shared prayer and food, attracting up to 40 women.
In 2010, Soul Space entered ever-expanding cyberspace by way of a website - a project I was blessed to be a part of with Marilyn and SoulSpace’s president and new director, Kismet Saglam. We were a strong trio of interfaith women - Christian, Muslim and Jewish - in active pursuit of communicating what we were about and to encourage others to join in. When the website was enhanced with an online publication, Reflections in 2011 (the third issue was released in September 2013) it was another form of what Marilyn has been inspiring in us since her interfaith work began, another in a long line of shared, interfaith goals that we had the great pleasure of reaching, together.
Marilyn would say that all of these years of interfaith exchange, creative circling, retreating and publishing are the result of many women’s hands. And it would in fact, be so. But because so much of this work also comes from our
souls, we’ve needed a certain kind of leadership, a deeper, more extraordinary form of inspiration. And Marilyn has been this for us. Perhaps her most poignant legacy is that no matter where she is, geographically speaking - there are plans in the works for Marilyn and her husband to move west to be closer to family – that like the original space that Soul Space moved out of to inhabit the yet-to-be-filled spaces, she will always be a guiding light for us in this
Just this year, I took leave from the SoulSpace Board to recover some much-needed time for writing. I am finding that my writing has been deeply impacted by my years working with SoulSpace. It has been a hugely soul shaping experience for me, touching all facets of my life – family, friendship, faith, as well as my work. These years of interfaith exchange - finding the right words to express my faith as well as doubts - have strengthened my Judaism, something that I will be speaking about in more detail later this month as a presenter at Soul Space’s ninth retreat on October 27th. I’m also writing a series of Jewish spiritual essays, some of which I hope to share on this site in the months to come.
I am so grateful for that first coffee with Marilyn which led to many more shared exchanges over food, each richer than the one before it. What a banquet it has become! I look forward to helping to nurture and encourage other hungry souls, like I continue to be, in shared spaces near and far, literally and spiritually.
Ellen Blum Barish