Seekers unite at a 'Burning Man' festival
Every year, at the end of summer, over 50,000 people come together two and a half hours outside of Reno, Nevada, for an event called “Burning Man.” Many are spiritual searchers, “… unprejudiced minds—simple seekers for Truth, weary wanderers, athirst in the desert …” (Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 570 ).
The concept of the Burning Man festival, as I see it, is simple: a community of people, supporting one another through an alternative economy based on gifting, all coming together from different religious, geographic, and cultural backgrounds. After nearly a full week in the middle of nowhere, they burn or clean up everything they brought with them—leaving no trace they were ever there. An artfully designed “temple” is an epicenter where people tack up photos and stories about loved ones they lost and things they want to let go of and experience release from. At the end of the festival, this architectural marvel, as well as the key artistic figure of a giant man, burns away.
To me, this is a deeply spiritual concept. It is only natural, then, for Christian Science—the most advanced practice of “burning away” what does not belong in consciousness—to be officially recognized at such an event. And this year that is exactly what happened.
After spending my teen years in the Hollywood club/rave scene, I prayed for a way to communicate the beautiful ideas about the reality of God’s expression, true spiritual innocence and purity inherent in every man and woman, to my techno-loving brothers and sisters. I was raised in Christian Science, and so the ideas of peace, love, unity, and respect (also a credo in rave culture: P.L.U.R.) have been near to my heart. They are, of course, what everyone wants regardless of self-imposed labels or denominations.
About six months ago, I received a phone call from a member of a Church of Christ, Scientist. She’d been attending Burning Man for many years. Up until that point, I’d only had some peripheral knowledge about the event. So I listened intently as this woman explained, in depth, her own experiences sharing Christian Science with people at Burning Man and asked me if I would be willing to prayerfully support the idea of having a Christian Science lecture there.
I immediately agreed and started including the idea in my daily prayer. As I spent time in prayer thinking about the event, I began experiencing healing of judgmental thoughts, regret about decisions I’d made as a teenager, and cultural beliefs about Christian Science, which actually have nothing to do with the practice of Christ’s Christianity. Talk about feeling the effects of prayer!
Fast forward five months, and quite a few e-mails and conference calls later, and everything was in place for a Christian Science lecture to happen at “Red Lightning,” a Burning Man camp community dedicated to the practice of different forms of spiritual healing. And I was planning to attend, too.
At this point, because of difficulty with ticketing, only two people were able to attend—the lecturer and an escort from the Bay Area. It looked like my mission was to be available strictly for metaphysical support. But God had other plans. In my prayers one evening, it came very clearly for me to understand my true motives for wanting to go to Burning Man. Then, these words came like, well, a red lightning bolt: You are going to develop love. I knew exactly what this meant: to learn to be more loving to all people, to be less judgmental about those of other faith practices, and to burn away a false sense of self. Moments after hearing this message, I checked my e-mail to find that enough tickets were now available so that I could attend. With a huge smile, all I could say was, “Praise be to God.”
With the metaphysical support of eight different Christian Science branch churches and societies, financial support from a Christian Science foundation, and lots of Christian Science practitioners, among others, supporting us through an online, hourly prayer shift calendar, four young Christian Scientists packed up a rental van at the Christian Science Organization (CSO) in Berkeley, California, and went to preach the gospel at Burning Man.
I began experiencing healing of judgmental thoughts and cultural beliefs about Christian Science.
The next four days were quite possibly the most transformational thus far in my life. We handed out dozens of copies of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, the Christian Science textbook; hundreds of pre-bundled “healing packs,” which included copies of the Christian Science periodicals; “qualities of God” sheets from my Bible Lesson; and many fliers for the lecture with this quote written by Mary Baker Eddy, “Identity is the reflection of Spirit, the reflection in multifarious forms of the living Principle, Love” (Science and Health, p. 477 ). We had countless deep and meaningful conversations with spiritual seekers and healers—many of whom would hug Science and Health to their hearts, with tears in their eyes, and audibly remember beloved grandparents, aunts, or other family members who were practicing Christian Scientists while they were growing up.
One particular experience at Burning Man showed me the true power of prayer. I awoke suddenly in the middle of the night. I got up, stepped out of the tent, opened my Bible, and read these words with a flashlight: “No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light” (Luke 11:33 ). Just then, one of my camp mates approached me. “Want to ride bikes to the playa?”
We rode into a large, open expanse of desert with thousands of people dancing to electronic music blasting from vehicles. My camp mate and I separated, and I felt led to go to a certain dance floor. As I began dancing, a young man approached me and asked if I knew the name of the dance area. I answered him and then sensed he was burdened by something heavy in his thought. We began talking, and before long we sat down on the ground and he was asking me to teach him Mary Baker Eddy’s spiritual interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer (see Science and Health, pp. 16–17 ). He had been raised in a Christian household, loved God, but felt disconnected from the rituals and dogma of his current temple’s worship. When I shared some ideas with him, he immediately asked, “What is the name of this philosophy you’re talking about?” I smiled and answered: “It’s not a philosophy. It’s called Christian Science.”
“This is the Christ I’ve always known has existed!” he responded. We sat down for quite some time, praying together, sharing inspiration, and as we did, the song coming from the DJ booth used vocal samples repeating mathematical equations: “2 + 2 = 4; 16 + 16 = 32” just as I was using mathematics to explain the simplicity of divine Science. It was perfect.
After some time, two of his good friends approached us, and we all started dancing. Before I left, he told me, “You saved a lost soul tonight.” I gave him a big hug and told him: “I didn’t save you. Christ did.”
I felt the power of prayer in those four days at Burning Man like never before. I saw it at work, healing and saving from sin. I experienced the Church of Christ, Scientist, in action. This is our Church. Our Church is alive through its works, and it is being sustained by prayers that transcend space and time. Prayer is everlasting; its spiritual tangibility survives forever and is constantly strengthening and supporting those who have felt called by Christ to preach the gospel. Whenever we pray about a situation, or for an individual, through affirming God’s unstoppable goodness, that prayer is invincible. It negates judgment, quells the need to condemn or criticize, and burns away a false sense of self.
When we live Christian Science, we live what I saw as the significance of the Burning Man festival, and I think this quote relates: “Every object in material thought will be destroyed, but the spiritual idea, whose substance is in Mind, is eternal” (Science and Health, p. 267 ). We are called to spiritualize everything and leave no material trace behind. What a truly universal healing mission!