Burning Man is an annual gathering of 75,000 people from around the world that takes place at Black Rock City—a temporary city erected in the barren northern Nevada desert. Burning Man is not a festival. Burning Man is a community. A global cultural movement. An assault on the senses. And I wanted to be there this year. So very desperately!
Why did I so deeply want to go to Burning Man this year? I was caught in the tension of my motives. Hoping to put words to my thoughts. Yet, once the words were found, I was careful and even fearful of sharing them. There was a certain emotional dualism which is not unusual for me. Shakespeare wrote that “nothing is so common as the wish to be remarkable.” Perhaps my greatest fear was my true reasons were not that remarkable but rather quite common and inconsequential. Regardless, they did seem to center around three core reasons.
- To conquer
- To discover
- And, to reflect.
One of the 10 core principles of Burning Man is radical self-reliance. Encouraging the individual to discover, exercise and rely on their own internal and physical resources. Relying on one’s own powers and resources rather than those of others. Black Rock City rises from an inhospitable salt flat without any of the basic resources I take for granted every day. A place where neither man, beast, or fowl can find rest. No shelter, water, food, or sanitation. All I would need I would need to bring. And then leaving with any surplus. Leaving no physical trace of my presence. In fact, leaving the playan salt flat in a better state than when I found out.
In a world bent on certainly and quickly satisfying my every need, I cherished a small dose of uncertainty. As Helen Keller once said, “security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” So one motivation was simply to surmount a fear. Radical reliance on the Lord.
Proverbs 3:5; 1 Peter 5:7; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Gandhi said “Live as if you were to die tomorrow, learn as if you were to live forever.” Adventure is worthwhile. Discovery is addicting. The practice of exploring new worlds only to return home and know it fresh for the first time. Seeing home hearth as a vestal virgin. And looking back on a life where no words are left unsaid, and no discoveries left unexplored.
I live daily in a known and well explored world. A safe world. I wanted to go to the margins. I wanted to go to the edges where I could discover what it meant to sacrifice and wrestle. I wanted to discover new people, sights, sounds, smells, and conversations to transform me. Stretch and change me. I wanted to discover a place where I didn’t belong. I wanted to feel alone in a city of unfamiliar citizens who might make me feel awkward. I wanted to feel uncomfortable.
The spiritual metaphor is profound. I don’t belong anywhere in this world. Yet, have I grown all too comfortable here? I wanted Burning Man to remind me that this is not my home. I should not get too comfortable here. I instead look forward to a home yet to come. Radical separation from the world.
Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 13:14-21
Krista Tippet hosts the NPR program On Being. She wrote that
…we are among the first peoples in human history who do not broadly inherit religious identity as a given, a matter of kin and tribe, like hair color and hometown. But the very fluidity of this—the possibility of choice that arises, the ability to craft and discern one’s own spiritual bearings—is not leading to the decline of spiritual life but its revival.
The theme for Burning Man this year is “Radical Rituals.” Inviting “burners” from around the world to create and experience interactive rites, ritual processions, elaborate images, shrines, icons, temples, and visions. “The theme will occupy the ambiguous ground that lies between reverence and ridicule, faith and belief, the absurd and the stunningly sublime.” What an amazing space to explore and reflect on the contemplative dimension of Christianity. A dimension that has long been left for dead.
I was hoping to spend time reading Cloud of Unknowing, Thomas Keating, Teresa of Avila, and Bede Griffiths. Reflecting in silence. Facing whatever the Spirit reveals to me. Being willing to follow where He leads. Even if leading me into deeper silence.
I tend to compartmentalize life into sacred and secular. Private and public. That is a dualism I hope to challenge at Burning Man. Exploring less what it means to be Christian and more what it means to be at all times Christ-like and in His midst. Jesus asked his disciples near the town of Caesarea Philippi. He asked them, “who do you say I am?” That’s where I want to soak and reflect. Not what the world says. Not my church. Who do I say He is? And how does the answer change how I live?
So, I yearn for radical reliance on the Lord as I conquer fears of self reliance. To discover a freedom from self interest which will enable me to give myself more completely to God. To reflect on radical rituals, prayers, and meditations in hopes of giving myself more completely to God.
Carving out space for contemplation more than mere anxious reactions. Finding the capacity to allow the Holy Spirit of God to guide and transform my mind. To connect deeply with the peace of God through biblical meditation. Making room for wonder and curiosity.
Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 1:9
So why am I going?
To pray in the dust.
Conquer, discover, reflect.
The playa beckons.