Word On Fire Research Assistant Jack Thornton recently attended Bonnaroo Music Festival. Here are his reflections on his experiences.
The weekend of June 7-10 I drove 9 hours by myself to Nashville, picked up a friend at the Nashville Airport and drove another hour and a half out to Manchester, TN. For the next three days we slept in a tent in a field next to 100,000 other people, went without running water, ate granola bars and fast food, smelled pretty bad and baked in the sun and dust all day. Except for a couple nights when it rained. Then we were slipping through mud and praying our tent kept out the water gushing from the torn sky. It did (mostly). Then we drove back to Chicago together in one ten-hour shot.
It wasn’t. It was one of the best weekends of my life.
You see it wasn’t just a camping trip gone wrong. It was Bonnaroo Music Festival and for someone who loves live music as much as I do it was Heaven on Earth. The 27 bands I saw easily made up for the lack of normal niceties and all the other aspects of the trip just made it more memorable.
There was one little problem with my trip though. Before I left I promised my wonderful co-workers I would write a reflection on my experience (which is what I am now doing and what you are now reading).
But I forgot to reflect.
There was a lot of opportunity too. On the lonely drive down I could have thought something similar to Constantine P. Cavafy’s poem “Ithaka” about how value in a journey lies in the journey itself not just the end and how the journey to God is no different.
But I didn’t. Instead I was singing along to songs as they came on the radio. Tom Petty, Rolling Stones, The Who, Queen, Arcade Fire and AC/DC were all accompanied by my off-key yodeling and drumming on the steering wheel.
At the festival itself I could have thought about how living out in the elements can remind one of the beauty and power of nature and the God who made them. Or I could have contemplated how the allure of live music can draw so many people to the countryside and how that is similar to the Church, which draws in its flock from so many corners of the world.
But I didn’t. Instead I was laughing about how silly I looked dousing myself with a gallon of cold water so I could wash myself and how unpleasant and refreshing that water felt. I was looking at the stars trying to find the few constellations I know. I was enjoying the creations of some very talented musicians (The Beach Boys, Radiohead, The Civil Wars and Bon Iver to name a few). I was talking to complete strangers and sharing a common experience with them before saying goodbye forever.
I was dancing like no one was pointing and laughing.
On the way back I could have contemplated the joys of traveling with a close friend and how we should all travel life’s journey with Jesus in the passenger seat. Or he could be driving the car. Or you can switch back and forth. It’s more responsible to alternate drivers when traveling long distances.
But I didn’t. I was too busy laughing about the crazy things we had seen that weekend and comparing
favorite bands, sets, songs and sights.
So what am I writing right now?
As I looked back on my adventure after the fact through the lens of a Catholic blogger the one interesting thing that stood out to me was the fact that I wasn’t very contemplative during that weekend. I wasn’t engaging in much deep thought about what I was doing. That’s pretty unusual for me.
Maybe that’s a good thing every once in a while.
I, and many other people I know, spend a lot of time thinking. Overthinking. Most things I do, hear about, read or see usually spark some line of deep thought or other.
What’s the deeper meaning of this movie? How will this new technology affect the human condition? What are the implications of that political speech? What does this athlete’s performance say about work ethic? How can I learn from this? What’s valuable about this work of art/song/album/book?
At any given time questions and inner dialogues like these are bouncing around my skull like a bunch of dodge balls in a middle school gym. I try to resolve one and another hits me in the face. It was nice to escape from that for a few days.
Just to clarify, I think it’s great to think like this and ask these types of questions. But sometimes it’s a good thing to put those questions away for a little while and just enjoy what we’re doing.
I’m also not trying to endorse some kind of hedonistic living. The point is not that enjoyment and pleasure are ultimate good. My point is that taking some time to enjoy yourself can be part of living the good life. Look to the Scriptures. At several points in the Gospels you see Jesus enjoying spending time with his friends, eating meals with them, going to a wedding celebration. In the Old Testament we hear of David dancing with a wild abandon. Look to tradition. On major Christian feast days we feast. We celebrate the pleasures of life. By taking some time off from reflection to simply enjoy life we can return to contemplation with renewed vigor and energy.
I think if I had been wandering around the festival grounds focusing on being reflective and
intentionally trying to find some deep metaphysical aspect of my experiences I would have missed out on experiencing them. If I had been constantly grasping for some great inspiration to write about I would never have gotten any and would have tarnished the pleasure of being there. Sometimes looking for something is what keeps you from finding it.
So every once in a while put reflection on the back burner and just soak up the present. It will provide
balance and make future contemplation more rewarding and fruitful. I know this is true because I just finished writing a reflection on not reflecting about a time when I did absolutely no reflecting. And you just finished reading it, which I’m sure was so enjoyable that you also stopped reflecting and just lived in the moment (hopefully).
Now we can all get back to the dodge ball.