Larry Saves- the spirituality of burning man

While some people go to Burning Man looking for drug-fueled hook ups in the desert, there are plenty who aren’t.  One of the reasons my friends and I went to Black Rock City is that we believe it to be a spiritually rich place, a place where people haven’t given up on exploring life, experiencing something transcendent or being freed  shame in their lives and doing that in community.

As my friend and mentor Rick Richardson put it, Burning Man “smells like spirituality” there is a quality about the festival makes people open up about their lives, give space to rethink their preconceptions or explore new ideas.  The daily grind of sleep/work/food/kids/car/cleaning/ isn’t present and it just gives mental space to reflect and ask questions.  Here are some of the highlights of the week for me regarding spirituality and how it was expressed through the artwork at the festival.

the temple at Burning Man

pain, regret, hurt, shame, remembrances, memorials to people, pets and self.

There is an actual temple at Burning Man where people can go and reflect, write a prayer, poem or memorial.  Rather than the loud bawdiness of the rest of Burning Man it’s a quiet reflective place. I saw a lot of people crying as the posted pictures of lost loved ones, dogs or cats.  It is heartbreaking to read some of the things people write. I was filled with both sadness and compassion for the people there with so many wounds in their lives.  I thought about how Jesus was present even though the name “Jesus” or “Christian” has so much baggage for so many people.  I wondered how so many people deal with so much pain in their lives.  At other times reading prayers was comforting- to know others are struggling in life and that you aren’t alone.  I think that’s a key reason people are drawn to the temple. Prayer isn’t done in private- it’s shared with the community. Some are simple prayers or memorials- a sharpie scrawled with a message of forgiveness to a hateful father.   Some memorials are elaborate:

a memorial at the temple.

The temple is one of the key aspects of the festival- perhaps it’s because it fills a need. Where do you go to church, if…you don’t go to church? There were even a few weddings during the week at the temple for people who met at Burning Man or see it as a big part of their lives. Though people may say that the place you worship doesn’t matter, I do believe there are spiritually significant spaces and that many of us long for those spaces that aren’t filled with the noise of advertisements, overheard cellphone conversations or the barrenness of cubicle-land. Even the journey to the temple, which is set in the distance on the playa (pronounced ply-a as in try-a). At the end of the festival they burn the temple.  I was really sad that we couldn’t stay for this part of the week, but I’m hoping in future years to be there for the event.  On saturday night, the sculpture of the man is burned. It’s a crazy party with everyone yelling and screaming.  I’ve been told by many burners that the burning of the temple is the opposite- thousands of people and it’s dead quiet and solemn.  I’m curious to know why it’s quiet- out of respect? sadness? fear? hope? catharsis? I suppose I’ll only know if I go and talk to people about their experiences. Why do you think people would be silent?

While Burning Man is essentially a neo-pagan event there is still a tremendous longing to connect spiritually. Some artistic statements are profound:

"when you call my name, it's like a little prayer!"

In reference to Larry Harvey, founder of Burning Man

from the global community photo project- "why do you do what you do?" http://www.wdydwyd.com/

To the more profane:

I have no idea how to even caption this one- this was the name of someone's camp.

To the silly:

We actually "passed the peace" as done in more liturgical churches- "the peace of God be with you" answer: "and also with you!"

Since learning about and experiencing the spirituality of Burning Man was a key reason why I attended the festival, I have a lot more to write about. My next post will be about the people we interacted with, prayed for, talked with and learned from. There are some sweet stories of how people encountered Jesus and how I experienced his presence, so stay tuned bloggy-bloggertons!

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