Bearing Witness to Life on the Streets
Nashville Tennessee, July 20-24, 2022
Nashville is sometimes called the Las Vegas of the South. It is a lively city famous for its country music scene and The Grand Opry, where nearly every now famous country western singer has gotten their start. It is a crossroads city of the South, with a reputation as a great party town and nightlife dominated by live music and party buses. Nashville is also the so-called buckle of America’s “Bible Belt.” The city is said to have more churches per capita than any other American city, the majority of them Evangelical Christian. On any given night in Nashville, amid church gatherings and country music concerts, between 800 and 1,000 people sleep without shelter.
Bearing witness to life on the streets is a way to plunge into the unknown, which is crucial to our practice of healing the gap of separation between others and ourselves. We become more observant of ourselves and our surroundings. From this increased awareness, healing takes place.
We will live on the streets of Nashville with no resources other than our true nature. We will beg for money, find places to get food, a place to sleep, bathrooms, etc. By bearing witness in this situation, we start to directly see our impulses, assumptions, prejudices, and boundaries. Practicing with Not-Knowing and Bearing Witness we experience our interconnection, recognize our common humanness, and realize our responsibilities.
We begin our begging practice before our retreat starts by assembling a mala, or beads that are strung together and worn like a bracelet or necklace. Each bead represents a person who sponsors that participant’s street retreat, and the entire mala represents the community of support. We will wear our malas on the street retreat. Money collected through this begging practice will go to the social service agencies and public non-profit organizations that will support our lives on the street and to support the social action projects at Bread Loaf Mountain.
“When we go… to bear witness to life on the streets, we’re offering ourselves. Not blankets, not food, not clothes, just ourselves.” – Bernie Glassman, Bearing Witness
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