When I told Glee Lumb, my daughter-in-law, about next year’s WCTS Gathering following a leading that arose in this year’s first annual gathering “to name the spiritual condition of the world,” her response was that she had seen others trying to do that, too.
First she led me to the Burning Man website, which describes an annual gathering of tens of thousands of participants in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. For one week they create Black Rock City, dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance. When they depart one week later, they leave no trace whatsoever. There are Ten Principles. Here are three of them:
“Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.
In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.
“Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.” <Burning Man>
While there has been no attempt to make Burning Man a spiritual experience, participants reluctantly admit that it is a powerful spiritual experience. Glee felt they were about naming the condition of the world.
Then Glee showed me an article about Eve Ensler who wrote the play, The Vagina Monologues, in 1996. Although she has devoted her life to the female body, she was relatively disconnected from her own body until the last few years. Her new book, In the Body of the World, she describes why she was disconnected, and how she was shocked out of that disconnection by first, encountering horrific rape and violence inflicted on the women in the Congo, and then being diagnosed with uterine cancer herself. She connects her own illness to the devastation of the earth, her life force to the resilience of humanity, and she has finally joined to the “body of the world.” She, too, is trying to “name the spiritual condition of the world.”
Glee also mentioned other movements in Portland, Oregon, where she lives, especially the Transition Town and Occupy movements as being generated by a longing to “name the spiritual condition of the world”, even if the movements have no outward spiritual content.
And, finally, I read the latest Quaker Religious Thought, issue #120, which contains several essays on the writings of Maurice Creasey. Jon R. Kershner, on p. 37, writes “Creasey states that to the extent that Quakers have any prospects, it depends on, first, ‘whether we as Friends can discern the condition of the contemporary world’ (emphasis mine)… and second, ‘whether we can speak relevantly and credibly to it.’” (Maurice A. Creasey, Collected Essays of Maurice Creasey, 1912-2004. Edited with an Introduction by David I. Johns. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2011)
I am excited about the prospects of this second annual gathering of Friendly Mystics next June. I believe that further guidance will come to help us “speak relevantly and credibly.”