Surprise! Church at Burning Man

P1250326What would inspire folks to shelve their iPhones and computers for a week, wait (with extraordinary patience!) for long hours in line to camp out in a severe desert environment, pack in all food and water, and pack out all trash, enduring dirty fingernails and dusty feet?  An annual event called Burning Man with these elements, and more, brought over 60,000 such folks together this year in a remote Nevada desert.  The rules for the community are basic (and can be see in their entirety here: http://www.burningman.com/).  In my reading of them, they are essentially a pragmatic statement of the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you.)  A unique element of Burning Man is its gift-based, rather than consumer-based economy.  The only things for sale are ice and coffee, and the proceeds go to a charitable organization.  Everyone that comes is expected to give something.  Also part of this culture: extraordinary creativity, art, loud music, a markedly friendly and open/permissive atmosphere, and whimsical clothing (or sometimes none.)

A group of people who love Christian Science felt there was a good reason to be a presence in this city.  We came to wash feet.

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We hadn’t specifically set out to “do church” there at Burning Man.  We had planned to lovingly embrace that city of lively seekers by actively seeing their spiritual worthiness as we washed dust from their feet.  What a surprise that in doing so, we discovered we were in the middle of church!  We found that as people came to us for this simple, humble, and very useful service, some were just happy to have clean feet.   Many, however, were curious as to why we would be doing such a thing.  Some remarked on its Biblical roots.  Quite a few pursued it further, wanting to know about Christian Science and its founder, Mary Baker Eddy.  Every single recipient left happy and refreshed, some profoundly so.

Here are some things I learned about church in this simplified, windswept desert environment, church pared down to its core essence:

Walls are entirely optional.  Someone could look at our camp and say we had a  “church structure” consisting of a large white dome tent, a generous and lovely shade structure, some chairs on rugs, and an impromptu outdoor kitchen set up between two vans.  However, the real “structure”, that which gave foundation and shape to our days, was much more aligned with Mrs. Eddy’s definition of Church in Science and Health:

“CHURCH: The structure of Truth and Love; whatever rests upon and proceeds from divine Principle.    The Church is that institution, which affords proof of its utility and is found elevating the race, rousing the dormant understanding from material beliefs to the apprehension of spiritual ideas and the demonstration of divine Science, thereby casting out devils, or error, and healing the sick. ”

Though we had no permanent walls, our community still had a very useful and specific form.  About half way through the week, we noticed these passages from the current Bible Lesson on Christ Jesus, supplied a perfect set of “Bylaws” to guide us in properly structuring our actions:

“What we most need is the prayer of fervent desire for growth in grace, expressed in patience, meekness, love, and good deeds. To keep the commandments of our Master and follow his example, is our proper debt to him and the only worthy evidence of our gratitude for all that he has done. Outward worship is not of itself sufficient to express loyal and heartfelt gratitude, since he has said: ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments.’ ” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, p. 4:3)

“Let unselfishness, goodness, mercy, justice, health, holiness, love — the kingdom of heaven — reign within us, and sin, disease, and death will diminish until they finally disappear.”  (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, p. 248:29)

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”  (John 13:34)

“…Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another,  love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: ” (I Peter 3:8)

When a community is firmly committed to loving neighbors, they begin to love each other more, even if they have widely differing “styles”.  We began the week not knowing each other, of different ages, with different life-experiences, and widely differing approaches to sharing our love of God and man.  Despite this, we came to love, appreciate, and trust one another.  This doesn’t mean there were not opportunities to exercise patience and forgiveness!  It just meant our default became “Love one another”.  In this simplified church environment, it became clear to me that there is no dividing line between helping someone you don’t know and helping someone you do know.  There is only love.  It has one divine source, and it gets expressed freely and appropriately to everyone.  Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians, 1 Cor 13:3, translated in The Message: “Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.”  We practiced humble, extravagant love, felt it for each other, and were able to offer it to folks we did not know.  I also saw in a sudden insight the converse: what shrivels church is not some dark outside force.  It is my own entertaining of unchristian thoughts towards another.

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There is room in church for whatever gift folks have to offer. There is not just one right way of washing feet.  There is not just one opening question to ask.  There is not just one way of meeting needs or nourishing a hungry heart.  We found that the diversity within us met the diverse needs of the folks that appeared.  Often the people that sat at the open chairs, ready for clean feet, were met with the one best suited to meet their needs.  Each washer had a gift to give, and each gift was as unique as his own smile.  What qualified the giver was his or her love, willingness, and commitment to humbly wash feet, not how much or how long they had studied the letter of Christian Science.  The essence of our little community’s offering was a tangible sense of nonjudgmental, unconditional love, and everyone in our camp, regardless of where they were in their study and practice of Christian Science, was included in both the giving and receiving.  Every expression given in love had value, and every camp member was valuable.

Shifting our focus from counting feet to enabling gratitude let us thrive.  At first, we wanted to know how many people we were assisting, so we invited them to write their names on a sign.  It quickly became apparent this numbering was the wrong approach, so we changed from trying to keep track of numbers to inviting gratitude.  (Don’t number the people! Mrs. Eddy warned in the Church Manual, and we found that was sound counsel at Burning Man, too.)  The gratitude poured out eloquently as folks happily expressed their delight in felt pen on our wooden shade structure.

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Unconditional love is so attractive that an inevitable side effect of love and inclusiveness is growth!  We anticipated we would be a camp of ten people.  Immediately, before we even got through the gate, we had the opportunity to include rather than exclude, when we were approached by two teens who asked us if we would drive them through the gate.  (They had tickets, but needed a car to ride in.)  They were so grateful and happy we were willing to help them, that they joined our camp, pitching their tent next to ours.  One of them joined us for multiple meals, participated in our camp activity, and contributed by getting ice.  After the Christian Science lecture given by Fujiko Signs (a member of our camp the entire week along with her husband Mark), one listener wanted to hear more, so he came to our camp after the talk, had dinner, asked questions, joined us at our testimony meeting, and brought his tent over.  He joined our camp for the rest of the week.  Another visitor, a student of Christian Science, heard we were there, found us, and asked if she could use our “Reading Room”, a card table set up in our dome tent, which she did.  Thereafter she was a frequent visitor and foot-washer.  So we began with ten, but had grown essentially by another third by the time the week was out.  This expansion was unlooked-for… but how love attracts!

Church tangibly harmonizes.  True church is not passive.  It acts on and through us as we lift our highest concept of God and man.  This is what we witnessed repeatedly in that arid environment.  One example:  two women came into our camp, noticeably disturbed.  As I began washing the first one’s feet, her language was harsh.  But she and her companion seemed very glad to be in our peaceful company, and they stayed quite a while.  I learned that one whose feet I had washed was trying to help the other, Irina, a young lady from eastern Europe whose English was minimal.  Irina had gone running that morning and had completely lost her camp.  She had no idea where it was in this town of dusty-look-alike-streets, therefore had no food, water, extra clothes, or bed for the night.  Irina had her feet washed, too, and then joined some others in “moving with gratitude”, an activity that a group in our camp was doing then.  Irina’s friend then washed feet of one of our members as they two talked together.  Since lunch was approaching, we included them in our round of sandwiches. I remembered I had found a stray water bottle on the playa the night before, so I washed it, filled it with fresh cold water, and gave it to Irina along with a bag to keep it in.  Both ladies beamed as they went on their way, now refreshed and happy.  One said, “I came here burdened by many things, but am leaving without any of them.”

By the end of our week in the desert, we found we had a full-service church.  We had gathered for a Wednesday testimony meeting, including multiple new-comers; held an open-air Sunday church service, with folks listening and participating, coming and going; provided two well-received Christian Science lectures; read the Bible Lesson out loud, with some discussion as one might have in a Sunday School setting, including the visiting college student; provided and utilized a simple “Reading Room”; washed feet; offered comfort, hope, joy, purity, and Christian Science treatment when requested, as well as food and drink; even provided some Christian Science nursing care.  Around fifty or so took Science and Health home with them from the desert, inspired by its amazing message. Our presence was a purifying, elevating one, and there was definitely healing.P1250315P1250374

 

 

 

 

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P1250390I am pondering how I can take what I have learned to apply more in my own life and in my somewhat greener and less-dusty church-home.  Love more, judge less.  Include.  Simplify.  Wash feet.  Feed.  Love.

P1250419To learn more about the Christian Science foot washing camp at Burning Man in 2013, visit spiritualplaya.org.

 

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The solution to ailing twos

Two times two has become five, he said with some concern.

Really? When did that happen?

Yesterday afternoon it began, and by night was fully evident.
With growing alarm he noted, now two times three is unpredictable.
Perhaps the whole two-times system has become infected
and may fail.

The family rallied round, faces grave,
hoping for the best, but fearing the worst:
Because twice-two had slipped, now two times three, four, and five
were endangered, even seven and beyond!
What caused it? A hitherto unknown flaw in two’s basic structure?
Was it contagious? Maliciously sent? An unsuspected accident?
Where would it stop?
Would all be lost?

It seemed an unquellable collapse, colossal in damage.
Was there no answer, no mathematical
repair, somewhere, anywhere? A wizard
who could (at unfathomable cost) somehow wrench those ailing twos
back into their accustomed spots, and anchor them securely?
Oh, did such a one exist?

And then, spoke a child:
TWO TIMES TWO EQUALS FOUR. IT NEVER WAS FIVE.

And suddenly, anxious chaos cleared as darkened sky lit by sudden ray.
Two times two equals four?
Two times two equals four.
TWO TIMES TWO EQUALS FOUR!

No unpredicatability, no infection, no colossal failure.
Just reliable truth.

—Anna Lisa Kronman

(This poem came to me one early morning in a quiet listening time, pretty much as it appears here.  It was published in the July 19, 2010 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.)

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A Junco, the Holy Ghost, and New Thoughts on “It might have happened anyway”

Recently I was visiting a friend, and we sat enjoying a lovely view of her colorful back yard. My friend, a bird lover, feeds many birds at her bird feeder. Suddenly there was a loud thunk! and we could see a small bird had flown full force into a window and now lay motionless on the ground.

Immediately, my friend and I stopped talking and began vigorous prayer for this small creature. My prayer went something like this: God, you are in control of every idea. You are supreme. Your law is the only one operating. Every idea, including this bird, is perpetually in Your sight. Not one could fall! Not one could ever be in the “wrong” place. This bird can hear You right now, dear Father. He is awake to his unhurt being, and he can get up now. “Not one faileth.” Since “accidents are unknown to God,” there could be no harmful effect from a non-event. “No evidence before the material senses can close my eyes to the scientific proof that God, good, is supreme,” writes Mrs. Eddy in Miscellaneous Writings, page 277, and I vigorously accepted this as true right then.

I noticed after a few minutes the bird had awakened and was now on its feet, but still seemed quite shaken, holding its head low and quivering, but I was glad to see progress. I then thought of this part of a sentence in Science and Health: “…the temple of the Holy Ghost, — the patient’s spiritual power to resuscitate himself,” and thought, this bird can respond to the present Holy Ghost, and feel that spiritual power to resuscitate himself. I then got some fresh insight on that idea—that whenever we might wonder or say in any situation, “Well, he would have gotten better anyway,” what might appear as spontaneous improvement is really the action of the “spiritual idea, the Holy Ghost and Christ,” at work, enabling “the patient’s spiritual power to resuscitate himself,” – even if the patient is a bird!  Shortly after this, an inquisitive squirrel came up to the bird, to see what was going on. The bird, as if to say, Enough! flew away.

We were both happy to see this, but my biggest take-away of this experience was this insight.  “It might have happened anyway,” sometimes uttered as if prayer might or might not have had anything to do with improvement, is really a recognition that good happens.   God is good, and causes good.  Prayer, as a recognition of good, uncovers and magnifies the good already present.  So, “it might have happened anyway,” is really an acknowledgement, even if not understood, of the Christ present, at work, good!

 

 

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Halloween decor inspirations

Near Halloween, folks around here like to decorate.  They display multiple pumpkins, gigantic spiders, inflated Frankensteins, and anything else they think fits into ghoulish fun.  I passed a mailbox recently that had some décor that offered me some spiritual insight.  Hanging by its tail off this mailbox was a “dead rat”.  This “dead rat” was obviously a stuffed animal.  It never had been a live rat.  It never was a dead rat.  It was just the expression of a concept—yucky dead rat.

This made me think: man is not a dead rat.  Nor is he a live rat.  He is not a rat at all!  More significantly, man is not a mortal.  He is not a live, healthy mortal, nor is he a sadly dead mortal.  He is not an in-trouble mortal.  He is not a sick, diseased, or stressed mortal. He is not mortal, ever.  That “dead rat” hanging from that mailbox hadn’t ever been a “live rat”.  It never was a genuine rat at all.  Man is not a mortal!

“Man is idea, the image, of Love; he is not physique.  He is the compound idea of God, including all right ideas….”  (Science and Health, by Mary Baker Eddy, pg. 475:13-16)  This is the accurate and everlasting statement of man’s being.  Man never left God for residence or penalty in matter.

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Love Present

Yesterday, as I drove home along a favorite tree-lined reservoir road, I saw something I had not before.  Someone’s grandfather was walking along the somewhat sketchy shoulder with a couple of long poles, bag in hand.  He was not in a hurry, nor did he appear uncomfortable, but he was quite a distance from any parked car, and this hour and place seemed like an unusual choice for a stroll.  I observed him as I passed, and continued thinking about him a few more turns down the road.  Then, I did a U-turn and came back.  As I got out of my car, he smiled warmly, acknowledging my greeting.  I asked him if he were OK, and he said he liked to walk this whenever he could.  He then added, you are the second gal in five minutes to stop and offer help!  After a few more happy exchanges, I proceeded on my way, satisfied that he was aware of his surroundings and actions.  As the road was narrow, I drove back the direction I had first come to find a turning-around spot.  There I saw another car pulled over, the driver clearly concerned about the elderly ambler.  She had seen me talking with him, and she wondered if he were safe, and thinking clearly.  We spoke a few moments, and then each went on our way.  I waved as I passed the silvered walker the second time, and prayed to understand that he was and would continue to be safe in Love’s care that day.

The lesson to me of this small interchange is huge:  In the short space of a few minutes, at least three different people saw something unusual and possibly unsafe for a fellow being, and were moved to take action to check in with that one.  None of the potential helpers knew the man ahead of time, nor each other… acquaintance wasn’t the motivator.  Concern and care for one’s fellow man was.

Isn’t that willingness to stop and step out evidence of divine Love present, here, now, alerting, guiding, calling to action?  Love moves us.  If Loved moved folks to check in with that veteran hiker, would it not be present in every situation, no matter how ordinary or how dire?  I am so grateful for this simple reminder that that Love is here and will keep us safe.  Love is compels action, on that road yesterday, and in every place.

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A Walk and a Listen

The photo above is a view on a walk I often take.   That is the Lafayette Reservoir nestling in golden California hills.  In spring, they are dotted with the lavender of lupine bushes; in summer we see yellow-orange monkey-flower coloring the hills.  Always these walks are prayer times.  I like to just listen to what God is saying as I walk (not always easy, but a great discipline!)  I often think of seven synonyms for God, and what they mean:  Life, Truth, Love, Spirit, Soul, Principle, Mind.  I ponder how man is the very expression of these God-names.  For instance, as the expression of Love, man is loved, loving, and lovable.  As the representative of Truth, man is pure, upright, whole, accurate, honest.  As the image of Soul, man (and woman, of course!) is balanced, beautiful, harmonious.  Man, as the likeness of Spirit, is spiritual!  Substantial.  Inspired.  As the very idea of Principle, man is designed and governed by divine law, with his entire experience subject to the operation of  Principle.  As Mind’s representative, man is intelligent, conscious, alert.  As Life’s manifestation, man is good, healthy, intact, divinely maintained.  I find the basis for these ideas in Genesis 1: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness:…and God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”

I love remembering this altogether good man is inseparable from his altogether good source: Love itself.  Nothing can come in to change that.  This perfect defense is beautifully summed up in Romans 8: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?….  Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.   For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Enjoy your next walk!

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