November 27, 2009

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

A great opportunity for human enrichment

Cynthia DewesSpirit and Place are two essential ingredients for fulfilling a human life. Spirit empowers us with imagination and reverence and every grace that comes from God. And Place secures us as persons in who we are, what we do, and where we live in the world.

That’s why we can be proud and grateful that a Spirit and Place “Civic Festival of the Arts, Humanities and Religion,” which took place on Nov. 6-15, is held annually in the Indianapolis area. It is a project of The Polis Center, Indiana University School of Liberal Arts, and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and its advisory board includes a wide community of civic, business and religious leaders, including Franciscan Sister Sandra Schweitzer as a liturgical design consultant.

For 10 days, people may participate in mostly free events all around the city and the surrounding area. This year, they included a public conversation about community development between two very different mayors of two very different cities: the venerable Bill Hudnut, former mayor of Indianapolis, and the tattooed John Fetterman of Braddock, Pa.

There was a cross-cultural evening of spiritual Japanese performance art combined with the place-centered literary work of William Faulkner. There were sessions featuring jazz or sacred music, discussions of local organic gardening or a visit to “a faith-based garden for wildlife and people” at Marian University in Indianapolis. It seemed no matter where our interests lay or where our curiosity took us, the Spirit and Place event had something to offer us.

One day-long automobile trip sponsored by WFYI was called the “Spirited Chase,” with a cost of $20 for a carload of four. Beginning on a Saturday morning with a continental breakfast, welcoming remarks and music by Time for Three at the radio station, it featured a kind of scavenger hunt for lesser-known sacred places around town.

Participants were given directions to the next destination at each of five stops, with the final stop being a wine and cheese reception and wrap-up session.

The first stop was Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Park, where Robert Kennedy gave a famous speech announcing the assassination of Reverend King on that day. This speech has been credited with keeping Indianapolis racially cool in a time when emotions ran destructively high in other cities, and it was a moving testimonial to true American unity.

Next up was a visit to the Central Library’s Special Collection Room, which included original works of Indiana authors and artists, one Hoosier’s lifelong collection of historic cookbooks, and an impressive autograph collection. At each stop, participants were given substantial goodie bags of information, books and other pertinent items.

Stop three was the Albert & Sara Reuben Holocaust Memorial Garden at the Jewish Community Center. The guide, who was the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, gave a gripping summary of her father’s experience.

Stop four was equally inspiring, a visit to the Sweeney Chapel at Christian Theological Seminary, where Professor Edie Johnson played a short recital on its magnificent organ.

At the fifth stop, visitors could tour the Stutz Artists Association building, with its antique car display, an art gallery and the chance to watch artists at work.

The day concluded with refreshments and funny remarks by Dick Wolfsie. It was indeed a Spirited Chase which contributed much sacred spirit and pride of place to its participants.

Many sites on the “Chase” were unfamiliar to the participants, who were delighted to discover them.

With the Advent season close at hand, the Spirit and Place Festival was an appropriate and inspiring preparation for its observance.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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