Whenever I’m presented with an invitation to “awaken,” I typically cancel all plans and take it. This past weekend, I packed my retreat clothes and headed an hour and half northwest of Denver to attend the first-ever Wake-Up Festival in the mystical, mist-shrouded mountains of Estes Park. My journey was blessed beyond belief: a magnificent elk greeted me as I pulled into the YMCA of the Rockies grounds, only to be followed by a similarly stellar constellation of human spiritual sages who awakened every thirsty cell of my being over the course of the weekend.
Hosted by the multimedia company Sounds True, the Wake-Up Festival was advertised as “a 5-day experience of transformation,” featuring such spiritual luminaries as the poet David Whyte, renowned medical intuitive Caroline Myss, radical theologian Matthew Fox, Agape’s Michael Bernard Beckwith, The Book of Awakening’s Mark Nepo, spiritual teacher Gangaji, Buddhist monk Jack Kornfield, and so many more. And that was just the speakers! Musicians (the longest-running “Christine” from Phantom of the Opera belted out “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as if on a Broadway stage), yoginis, energy medicine healers, and mystical chant leaders invited us to open our bodies as well as our minds to a deeper awareness of self, other, our connectedness, and our enormous potential for being over-flowing vessels of love and grace in the world.
One of the things I love most about claiming the Progressive Christian label is that I can attend a conference with sessions titled “Yoga Trance Dance,” “Just Being Here,” and “Harnessing Energy as We Age” whole-heartedly and unapologetically, and while theology, the Bible and Jesus were not central to any of these conversations, the entire experience, for me, was drenched in God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. The emphasis on awakening, healing, self-awareness, transformation, community and offering resonated deeply with my experience of following Christ, the healer, the inviter to life-abundant, the living embodiment of body/mind/spirit connection.
I may have been most moved by the two hours spent listening to the poet/philosopher David Whyte. The poems from his latest collection, titled Pilgrim, shimmer like holograms for the spiritual journey, the readings made all the more enchanting by his lilting, lingering Irish accent. My new centering prayer word might just very well become “pilgrim.” And perhaps I will leave behind the label “Progressive Christian” in favor of “Pilgrim Christian.” As Whyte uttered the word – pilgrim – I felt a deep “yes” arise within me, a realization of being named again, being named anew. A perfect moniker for one following The Way, journeying forward into new frontiers of thought, time and space. Always moving toward rebirth, re-awakening, truth, and as spiritual director Caroline Myss said, every moment, one of grace. This is the journey that calls me. It’s the only one that makes getting out of bed in the morning worth anything.
I’m grateful to Sounds True for hosting such a rich feast for all of us weary, yet hopeful pilgrims.
By David Whyte
The road in the end taking the path the sun had taken,
into the the western sea, and the moon rising behind you
as you stand where ground turns to ocean: no way
to your future now but the way your shadow could take,
walking before you across water, going where shadows go,
no way to make sense of a world that wouldn’t let you pass
except to call an end to the way you had come,
to take out each frayed letter you brought
and light their illumined corners, and to read
them as they drifted through the western light;
to empty your bags; to sort this and to leave that;
to promise what you needed to promise all along,
and to abandon the shoes that had brought you here
right at the water’s edge, not because you had given up
but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all, part of you could still walk on,
no matter how, over the waves.