By Faima Ramirez
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer
Black light, neon-colored flashes, thumping bass, the DJ behind a MacBook, laser lights and full-blast electronic beat. No, it is not a scene from a techno rave at a nightclub on Rosemary St. It was all part of the first Electronic Cosmic Mass in the Triangle area.
Two hundred people, mostly Carrboro and Chapel Hill residents, attended what Blake Tedder described as “a community ritual that involves dancing, song, communion and communal grieving” at the Carrboro Century Center on Jan. 12, 2013.
Tedder, 27, from Rocky Mount, N.C. and a group of 12 “visioneers” (they don’t like to call themselves a ‘committee’ or ‘board’) started organizing the event after theologian and Episcopal Priest Matthew Fox, the main proponent of The Cosmic Mass, gave a talk on Creation Spirituality in Carrboro last spring.
After partaking in Fox’s teleconference course, Tedder decided to introduce Carrboro to the ritual, which combines religious traditions from around the world, including Buddhism, Judaism, Sufism and Native American spirituality.
“A lot of people are really craving going deep into spiritual activity,” Tedder explained, “but they don’t want one thing; they are seeing there are multiple truths.”
According to the official statement on The Cosmic Mass (TCM) website, it is an effort to deconstruct worship forms inherited from the modern era (such as sitting on benches, reading from books, and being read to or preached at).
Tedder says that, while he sees value in Western religious practices, “They squash the human spirit that wants to experience.”
Megan Goodwin, a doctoral candidate in the Religious Studies department at UNC-CH clarified that New Age religious movements like Fox’s are not that new.
“There is a long history in the United States for religious fragmentation and innovation. There is a push to find a spiritual path that fits for you,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin’s claim on America’s religious flexibility is backed by an abundance of research. According to the Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life, one-in-four adults (25 percent) indicate they attend services of at least one faith other than their own, and roughly one-in-ten (12 percent) adults say they participate in the services of two or more faiths in addition to their own.
Additionally, Goodwin explains that New Age rituals appeal to a certain demographic that fits Carrboro’s profile.
“Chapel Hill/Carrboro is full of highly educated, upper-middle class, almost overwhelmingly white people,” she argues. “It’s what we call seekers: people that don’t have a strong affiliation with one religious group and that are looking for an essential truth.”
Tedder said Carrboro is a fertile ground for community-building initiatives: “Carrboro is a very special town; it is very open to diversity, even though when I looked around I mainly saw white people and older folks.”
Tedder also said that he thinks most people attended the event out of curiosity. “When I asked how many people had been to a Cosmic Mass before, only four people lifted their hands,” Tedder said.
Luke Miller, a yoga teacher originally from Pennsylvania, moved to Pittsboro 13 years ago and attended The Cosmic Mass without knowing what to expect.
“I was intrigued by the ritual and I wanted to experience what it was all about,” he said. “I danced in total ecstasy…. I was a rave kid once, I know what it is like, and this was very close.”
The ceremony was divided into four parts that are taken from Christian liturgy. The second part is known as the “via negativa” where participants are encouraged to release grief in a communal space.
“It was a safe space for people to heal. I was surprised by how loud the wailing got. People were just howling; it was incredible,” Miller said.
Susan Hutton, 57, from Carrboro, said she lost her voice during the mass. “Stuff came up that I did not expect,” she said, “I was a different person the next day.”
In total, the mass lasted for two hours and 15 minutes. Two hundred people plus the 25 volunteers who set up the event raved from 7:30 p.m. to almost 10 p.m. In addition to the electronic playlist, members of the community played guitar, drums, fiddle and piano.
Participants’ only complaint was that the music was too loud. Goodwin, however, argues Fox’s approach to spirituality can be problematic on a deeper level: “He seems to be arguing for different ways to worship the divine, at times pulling from Native American rituals, for example. This is problematic because it can seem disrespectful when it is done without a full understanding of Native American traditions.”
Every Cosmic Mass usually evolves around a theme instead of a specific religious ritual. Social justice is the backbone of these community rituals. “Our whole theme [for this first mass] was coming to a time of cooperation instead of domination, dropping the score card and not needing to compete,” Tedder said.
According to Tedder, “visioneers” are already organizing the next event in the summer, and they hope to get more people to participate in the planning. “We aim at getting more young people involved in spirituality because they are more active politically.” If the rave component was not appealing enough for the 20-year-olds, Tedder hopes to have more multimedia features (screens, projections, videos, etc) in the next event.
The $150 suggested donation from organizations and non-profits that wish to partner with TCM will help this purpose. “The donations [and local sponsorships like The Flowjo’s and the United Church of Chapel Hill’s] blew me away. We were able to reimburse ourselves and we opened a bank account to save for future events.”
“We want everyone in the community to take part of the planning. We want them to bring their ideas, their art for making this beautiful space,” Tedder said. Even though Tedder was incredibly thankful for the help and support of the staff at the Carrboro Century Center, the next event will probably be outside. “I think we are too big for the Century Center, we even had to turn people away. I don’t want that to happen again.”
The Cosmic Mass in the Triangle website:
The Cosmic Mass in the Triangle Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/#!/CosmicMassTriangle?fref=ts
The Official Cosmic Mass website:
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life database
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