The Spring 2024 Metamodern Spirituality Lab at Sky Meadow

Participants at the 2024 Spring Retreat at Sky Meadow (photo courtesy of Stephen Macurdy)

I’ve recently returned from Sky Meadow, a soulful home-away-from-home retreat center deep in Vermont’s magical Northeast Kingdom. The Spring ’24 retreat was part of an ongoing series conceived and hosted by Brendan Graham Dempsey and Layman Pascal (whose own reflection upon the event is available here). The theme for this season was “God” (or perhaps “God‽”) and we were there to grapple gracefully with the notion of deity as a Metamodern construct.

Even as a devout, down-to-Earth nontheist, I appreciate this theme as a necessary – nay, vital! – step towards the metamodern spiritualities glimmering on the cultural horizon.

The multi-level and multi-purpose Sky Meadow Barn.
The rustic, DIY sauna and adjacent pond.
The former Dance Pavilion, now (at least tentatively) renamed The Hearth.
Cabins, including the Hobbit House, viewed from across the pond.

The retreat/lab was divided into two related parts, and we were there for both. First was the pre-retreat period of several days, which combined:

  • morning meditation sessions in the Barn that serves as the hub of activity at Sky Meadow
  • experiments in communal living – we stayed again in the cozy Pond House, about a minute’s walk from the Barn
  • helping to restore an overgrown medicine garden to its former mandalic glory (much weeding, shifting of stones and laying down of pathways)
  • another memorable sauna night, during which I managed to recreate last year’s quasi-mystical experience of plunging, steaming hot, into the adjacent pond in darkness
  • “practices” including hilltop enactments of the sajadat (Muslim prayer cycle) and a class in my own system of competitive/collaborative movement games/exercises
  • an epic, four-hour-long Appreciation Circle, during which I – to my utter amazement – was dealt the most significant possible Tarot card vis-a-vis my own Poetic Faith
  • … and, perhaps most importantly, the collective co-creation of an elaborate ritual pilgrimage to welcome participants to the Retreat proper, on Friday evening.
The Medicine Garden, part-way through rehabilitation.
A stone circle in the archaic Green Realm, ready to welcome and challenge pilgrims.
An icon of the Great Goddess adjacent to the natural tree-stump altar of the Polytheists.
The Polytheistic altar, where shells were exchanged for burning sticks of incense (photo courtesy of Jeffrey Malecki).

The first stations of the ritual expedition represented the archaic and polytheistic aspects of human religiosity. Participants summoned into the forest by drumbeat partook in several wordless ceremonials – water, earth, breath, tree, shell – before a stone circle, representing a notional religion of 100,000 years ago. Then they were led by flute to a clearing where they chanted in honor of many gods around an incense altar, before being sadly released from the forest’s embrace.

The pilgrims then climbed a hill towards the indoor station representing Monotheism, to be regaled by somber readings from Holy Books in Hebrew, Greek and Arabic, then on through Modernism – where a technocrat demonstrated the new God of mechanical invention and relieved them of their holy texts in exchange for money. They were then led to the Post-Modernism Teepee, which offered no answers, but at least the new questions were diverting.

Ultimately – after various trials, conundrums and exchanges of symbolic tokens – the pilgrims arrived upon a hilltop, as the sun was setting, to experience an immersion into the Metamodern future of spirituality. There were stories told and talismans of deep personal significance left upon a communal altar.

Post-pilgrimage campfire discussion (photo courtesy of Brendan Graham Dempsey, s’mores courtesy of Ben Rosen)

The next morning I was honored to take part in a panel presentation with Brendan Graham Dempsey and Gregg Henriques, each of us speaking on our own approaches metamodern spirituality. My impromptu talk on Poetic Faiths – including the inaugural public reading of the Cultpunk Manifesto – was well received.

The remainder of the retreat/Lab weekend included several deep discussions on the “God‽” theme facilitated by Layman Pascal, as well as further somatic practices, more work on the medicine garden and many opportunities for soulful conversations and rejuvenating strolls in between scheduled events. On Saturday night we all thoroughly enjoyed a delicious communal feast expertly prepared by Erin Dempsey using mostly local (some very local) ingredients, followed by a multi-location tribal dance party.

Dinner (photo courtesy of Kathrynne Wolf)

Post-dinner, pre-dance party string/percussion/vocal jam session (photo courtesy of Kathrynne Wolf)

Regretfully, due to travel time between Sky Meadow and Boston and the vagaries of airline schedules, we had to depart before the closing ceremony on Sunday, but we understand that it was a suitably magical recapitulation/reframing of the welcoming pilgrimage, setting the scene for the next Metamodern Spirituality Retreat, in the Fall.

These and kindred events are truly – truly – where the next phases of human spirituality are being co-created, in response to the urgent demands of the Meaning Crisis. I’ve been awaiting them for well over thirty years and I’m profoundly glad that they’ve arrived while I’m still young enough to enjoy them.

I hope to see you at Sky Meadow in the not-distant future …