In Jeff Sharlet’s disturbingly revealing book, The Family, about the pervasive influence of fundamentalism in all corners of America, especially insidious in Washington, DC, he traces the origins of the “Jesus plus Nothing” mentality backward several hundred years. When he gets through Jonathan Edwards (the Great Awakener) to Charles Finney (the Second Wake-up Call to Faith) he tells the story of Finney’s conversion.
“He aimed himself for a piece of woods. . .charted an indirect path. . .and ‘I then penetrated into the woods.’ . . . He found himself a closet of trees. . .crawled in on a damp bed of pine needles and fire-red oak leaves and knelt.” Sharlet continues the description, “He went on for hours, tears streaming, his hands and his face brown with the dirt of the forest floor. . .he had found his enemy at last. It was his own mind.”
Later, one of Finney’s first converts, a young man at the shoeshop, met God out in the woods too. As Sharlet puts it, “The grotto never failed.”
In philosopher Daniel Dennett’s book, Breaking the Spell, he relates the old Hasidic Jewish story (from Elie Wiesel) about Rabbi Israel Shem Tov who had a custom of going into the forest to meditate. He would light a fire and say a prayer. Later, one of his disciples went out to the forest but didn’t remember how to light the fire. Another disciple goes out there, doesn’t remember how to light the fire or say the prayer, but he “knows the place.” Finally, one old rabbi at a later time sits in his chair at home, unable to light the fire or say the prayer or go out to find the place in the forest. All he has left is the story.”
The common denominator: the forest. Go out to find God, the divine, the sacred, sanity, health, your own mind. The Natural Bible (Qur’an, Tao, Dhammapada, Veda) is the light, the prayer, the place and the only “grace” free and open to all to be “converted” to Life. That’s what I’d call a Great Awakening.