Transcending the World: Now and Then

Craig Green is a musician and the founder of Songtuary, a communal singing group from Charlottesville, Virginia that engages people of all traditions to explore the resonance of their voices outdoors. One of his earliest inspirations – the Transcendentalism he discovered as a teen. Then we hear from Dr. Robert A. Gross, the Bancroft Prize-winning historian whose new book “The Transcendentalists and Their World” brings Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau to the fore. Emerson is the father of Transcendentalism, the first distinctly American philosophical and spiritual movement. Dr. Gross connects the dots between these 19th-century thinkers and today’s fastest-growing segment of the American religious landscape, the “spiritual but not religious,” or “Nones.”

“We Drop Out of Our Egocentric Ways of Thinking”
In this non-narrated reflection from musician Craig Green, we learn why creating space for people to sing outdoors is his spiritual calling. Green, the founder of a Virginia-based community singing group, invites people to gather outside and discover the power of experiencing their voices resonating with the sounds of nature. Having discovered Thoreau as a teenager, Green explains why he lives in intentional communities and his spiritual journey. Green is one of the growing number of Americans identifying as “spiritual but not religious.” But he cautions against assuming his spiritual identity means he is a loner. Quite the contrary – he is trying to find through his music “a beloved community in which people feel like they can be completely themselves and also be encouraging other people to be completely who they are and, finding our voices and our truth together.”

The God Within
Dr. Gross outlines the often confounding basics of Transcendentalism and shows why they were extraordinary in 19th-century America. He argues that Emerson and other Transcendentalists took what was a relatively obscure German philosophy and gave it an American spin – “What the Transcendentalists do that I think is American is they infuse their vision of the God within with a commitment to democracy and egalitarianism,” Gross says. “The moment you accept that each individual has something in him or her that is divine, that’s the moment all hierarchies, all tyrannies topple.”

“Where I Lived and What I Lived For”
Dr. Gross shows how Emerson taught the tenets of Transcendentalism, but Henry David Thoreau – another Concordian – lived it. In moving to Walden Pond on the town’s outskirts, he ignited both American environmentalism and a lived, experiential spirituality conducted out-of-doors still present and thriving today.


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