I have been reflecting on Afrika Burn 2008, with 2 articles, a general synopsis called “AB08 scorecard” and a cheeky cultural crit called “Soop – Sound (Waves) Out Of Place“. But now I want to get to the heart of the experience, from the point of view of the theme camp that our community set up, Sanctuary.
The backdrop for this is a yearlong exploration of what I call “Liturgy” (literally “The work of the people”), that is community, creativity and the sacred fully embraced in an attitude of experimentation. We have met every second Sunday, and our activities have ranged from ad hoc chilling to fully fledged multimedia environments. In all of this we have sought to understand how G-d might be involved to create a family of worshipper-celebrants, and what community might look like untethered to the normal rules of religion, survival or profit. Away from the formal gatherings we have pursued friendship, eaten and drank, blogged, read, watched cinema, and worked at our theology and its implications.
One image that has driven my imagination has been from the ancient prophetic writings of Isaiah: “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.” (54:2) The Desert experience seemed more than apt as a Site of Incarnation of that broadening vision. Our year has indeed given us a far expanded view of what the Community of Grace might entail, and we have specifically deconstructed many of our own religious traditions, to find that our faith was not destroyed in the process, but rather strengthened. We considered many things, Chaos, Light, Dance, Primal Spirituality, Meditation, fresh rituals, medieval mysticism, and found this exploration to be consistent with the message of the Bible as we, as postmoderns, are reading it. See some record of this on Cape Conversation.
So a loosely affiliated group said yea to the invitation. Andrew and I got busy with the central Bedouin Tent, investing, testing, and repairing. Kim and Jeremy started thinking about their vision for baking and made a portable oven. Ann and I thought through the implications of having 2 under 10’s, and girls at that, in a searing, dusty desert environment, and generally how to bring comfort to the space. Andrew procured specialty teas and produced a wonderful blend based on honeybush, African potato, aloe and buchu, and Mike got together a Chinese tea set with green leaves. Hilary prepared for creative and therapeutic activities, and John undertook a quasi-entertainment portfolio. But no-one really knew how it would turn out.
The journey there was eventful – a puncture, a broken alternator that necessitated a tow rope which broke over 5 times, a trailer that left the vehicle at speed and had to be retrieved and tied to it with rope. Then, at the hottest point of the day, we had to put tent pegs into rock. We finished at sunset, exhausted.
On Saturday, a little refreshed, we started brewing tea and baking bread, and putting up signs inviting passersby in. Within a very short time people arrived to be given a cup of Sanctuary blend and muffin or slice of steaming bread with melting honey. They were seated on cushions at a low table, while our generator-free sound system provided chill and desert ambiences. Some sipped quietly, some huddled in tete a tete, some felt safe enough to catch 40 winks, some joined us in a mask making workshop, others joined us in a jam session with drums, panpipes, Irish Bouzouki and violin.
When we started to realise the potential of such a space was when “customers” (for want of a far better term), started returning. At this point we began to recognise one another and conversations began. I confess to pontificating on sustainability, full cost economics, the virtues of the pagan, and religious deconstruction. Snores were heard from the back of the tent, but several people engaged in conversation. Community started to emerge, like flowers of belonging in a desert of anonymity.
We managed to get the thunderously intrusive mobile disco to hold fire for long enough for us to do a Taize style choral workshop, and we prepared 2 pieces, “Veni Creator” and “Keep me”, just in time for the barrage of techno to resume – see the Soop post for more on this.
We had intended to close shop on Sunday, and do a Liturgy at the centre of Tankwa Town, but the people were not ready to let us go. So we got baking and brewing, the wonderful Plet crew arrived with a large fruit salad, replete with dates and desert fruit. The lines between giving and receiving became gorgeously blurred in an Economy of Grace.
Well the heat was up and we did not want to pass on the opportunity, so we headed for the heart of the Binnekring and gathered underneath the 8M high installation, The Wish. We started with Veni, held silence for a while (yes a moment of grace when all dance floors seemed to recede into quiet), drummed on Big Medicine (our tribal drum) a little, then gave each participant 15 minutes to head outwards into the desert, allowing the space to speak to them. When we reconvened, amazing synergy and compassion flooded our cathedral of sky. Each one spoke plainly and frankly about their experience. Tears were shed, confessions heard, and connections made.
– “I have enough.”
– “Be still and know that I am God.”
– “The wind caused the door of forgiveness to creak in my direction.”
– “The balloon forest looks like a lot of deflated penises. Man’s virility does not endure.”
– “Whatever you believe, it’s radiating from you.”
– “This stone looks like a book, but it is far older than any of mans publications, it is a book of the earth.”
– “You did not exclude me.”
There are whole worlds I am leaving out, and at the risk of sounding too inwardly focused, wanted to draw an intimate picture of what I consider a pivotal spiritual moment: a sacred encounter in a Temporary Autonomous Zone, as a harbinger and confirmation of a process that has become a living part of my life.
Interview with Brendan Smithers, of The Upsetters, creators of The Wish (2008) and The Turbine (2007)
Nic Paton : “Soop – sound (waves) out of place”
Nic Paton (emergentvillage) : “Burner Culture and the Emerging Church“
Andrew Hendrikse : “Gifting and hospitality“
Nic Paton : “An economy of Grace“
Overtone Music : “Ten people you’re likely to meet at Afrika Burns“
Andrew Hendrikse : “Untitled“
Nic Paton (emergingafrica) : What would Jesus burn?