It was a sisters’ week in Park City, Utah. Glorious, mostly sunny with hints of rain, food-filled and sight-seeing galore. We were glutted on it, which I will write about later. But the earth-moving, mind-arresting and spectacularly surprising day for me was the trip to Salt Lake City. 

Now, the Mormons have a unique and checkered past filled with polygamy, treks west that were not for the faint of heart, and a sturdy trust in their belief system of prophets and clean-living. The city either directly or obliquely reflects this historical milieu. And while Utah is now only 49% Mormon, I suspect it’s higher in Salt Lake City itself.


I was struck immediately by the astonishing cleanliness of Salt Lake City’s center. I’m guessing there was dirt and trash somewhere but I never saw any. The city had a near gleam to the place. Additionally, flowers were lathered everywhere — fragrant, colorful, well-appointed, full beds with no weeds that I could see. I mean, no weeds! It was a pleasure to just breathe the fragrant air. Sensual, actually!

Female mission representatives dotted the streets, ready with a smile and cheerfulness that was arresting and warm. You just couldn’t help but be startled and smile back. These unofficial goodwill ambassadors created a warmth and energy field one was helpless to ignore, pulling you in with their tractor beam. The funny thing is, you didn’t mind either.


We toured The Beehive House, which was “the official residence of three Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, Lorenzo Snow, and Joseph F. Smith.” We also saw “This Is The Place Heritage Park” overlooking the city, where the Mormon trek across the West is commemorated. We drove through parts of the University of Utah as well, where the first mechanical heart transplant occurred. On the other side of it were lush, tree-lined neighborhoods sporting multi-generational founding families’ homes.

Our little tour bus stopped at a magnificent structure — the Cathedral of the Madeleine — as we circled back to the center of town. While not in the same caliber as a cathedral in Europe, it was nonetheless impressive with massive stained glass windows, high ceilings and an intricately carved altar area. You could smell the wood. It was stunning.


The highlight of our touring was witnessing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra during a rehearsal. They were practicing in a large pavilion, I believe called the Tabernacle, very near the world famous Temple which was veiled in scaffolding for earthquake retrofitting and refurbishing. It was all but invisible.

But the choir! I can hardly put words to it. Over 350 voices rising skyward, rearranging the air we breathed as it floated down into our lungs! All volunteers — these singers, rehearsing  a minimum of five hours a week! The orchestra, the same commitment with just over 100 musicians. It’s not possible for words to convey the feeling for me of listening to them all. It’s why we have music—when words are insufficient unto themselves. The word heavenly comes to mind yet still feels inadequate.


The totality of the singers’ voices dancing on the wings of strings, reed instruments, flutes, horns and tympanies is, well, a sight to see and feel. I was drunk on the majesty of it all. Helpless! The atoms rearranged themselves as a consequence! My internal organs moved, gently stimulated as if being massaged. Had there not been seventy-five or a hundred other people in the audience, I would have wept!

I’m sure I could have slept in a pew that night but alas we had to catch our tour bus, get our car and go back to Park City where we were staying. Oddly, it strikes me that Park City’s mountains are a physical, secular manifestation of the divine in their own right—music made of rock and earth. My God, no wonder Redford was moved. The area is magnetic.


I want to go back. I have not had enough of the energy and inspiration this geography provides. While it feels primal in some ways, it also reveals a sort of grooming possibility, ripe and rich with regeneration and potential, much like I think of birth. 

And maybe even Heaven!

When I was a little girl, I remember playing under an evergreen tree with the lower canopy that allowed for a teepee-like experience. I even imagined (or remembered?) being a squaw in a previous life. Actually, it is not relevant whether it was imagined because the essence of the experience was that of serenity, solid and complete.


There are moments in life when you know there’s something else going on, tangible but ineffable. It is not just in the most intimate recesses of what you believe yourself to be, it is outside of you as well. This awareness is pervasive and infinite, an atmospheric river. Most importantly, it is love-saturated, a palpable, crackling calm yet energetic field of seeming potential. 

I am inclined to know this state is the reality of our being. It is reliable yet all-too-often fleeting in its awareness. So much of our lives, at least my life, has been on the physical plane. But I have constantly been drawn back like a homing device to the other state, the real one, in various forms. I am both helpless yet helped in the process of the return.

Many people call it God or the Presence. It can go by a lot of different names but suffice it to say, the overarching definition is beyond one’s small self, limitless. It is the certitude that there is something greater than a small self, that one has no power over yet participates with as an individual cell contained therein.


I remember when working with Bennet Mermel, my holocaust survivor friend—cantor, atheist, believer in a different way—and us arguing periodically, about the existence of God. I think it was the name that tripped him up, and all the baggage it implies. Why the Old Testament lets humans name things is beyond me but such is one of our traditional beliefs. With the naming of things comes an implied assigned meaning that is fixed. 

Naming invites us to think we have some sort of power (not to be confused with responsibility) over the thing itself which is absurd of course on the face of it. I laugh at myself that I ever had this argument with Bennet, he being one of the best examples I’ve ever met of a human contradiction—that tension between the physical and the etheric plane.


In the end of our back and forth, Bennet did tell me that he believed there was something greater than himself. I think he called it nature if I remember correctly. Vividly, I recall watching and hearing him sing as was his nature. Not only was his voice stunning, but I was witness to what Jamie Wheal would call flow or zone. Bennet would be smack dab in the middle of that zone when he sang, hitting the center of the note like a laser drawn to a tractor beam.

Regardless of what we humans name it, it is a state where there is unadulterated awareness of the cessation of time, even physicality. The transcendence of form is in the background yet pervasive. I was aware in my imagination under the lower canopy of the fur tree of that zone, much like I witnessed Bennet when he sang. And while there have been other times I’ve inhabited the zone, they are not frequent. Rather, they come unbidden, as if by accident yet not.


In the end, I gave up trying to convince Bennet of the existence of God. While that was my instinct to finally let it go, it wasn’t until after he died that I knew for a fact, a fact mind you as reliable as gravity, that it was the semantics that were the problem not the experience itself. He knew it by another name. He couldn’t help but operate in the field, the zone by another name.

Bizarrely, there are moments in time that are outside of it. Some people discover it through ritual or traditions. Some people stumble on it by being on holy ground, in nature, around art, or even something as mundane as waiting for a train. Others by hitting the center of a note while singing. Songbirds know! Still, others experience it while looking at a daisy. Or into the eyes of a cow.


How much time I wasted trying to convince Bennet of a noun confused by our conflicting definitions. Ah, the arrogance of the ego! Yet, I remain grateful beyond measure for his voice, his arguing, his insistence on expressing it and in the only way he knew. The pristine quality through his singing was his witness, not all its man-made baggage and assumptions. It was the state he understood, the energy of something greater than himself that facilitated his very act.

The world is currently on a precipice, with so much strife everywhere. So many traditions and institutions are failing us, a critical mass buildup of disintegration witnessed in the current moment. Yet it is only a moment. While all that which has seemed reliable in the past is no longer so, there is an opportunity for reinvention that transcends the moment—not just by renaming things but by creating new paths through imagination, and discovery.

All this is true on an individual level as well as a communal level, from the micro to the macro and back again. It’s kind of funny that Bennet keeps teaching me things he professed to not believe in, even beyond the grave! It is a Grace, one of those mysteries of the living and the dead, in and out of time. Nameless and waiting.


At some point as a species we will have to surrender our perceptions of supremacy and arrogance though not responsibility. So many old thought patterns and ideas have become extinct. It is time for us to put on our big boys and girls pants and grow up! Humility is the primary vehicle in that turning, just as much as a maturing, playful confidence in ourselves and our own creativity with internal and external exploration.

How all this turns out is anyone’s guess. Between Jaime Wheal’s stunning work in Recapture the Rapture, as well as others research that is pivotal, an emerging potential for devising new ways of living, reinventing rituals, institutions and relationships, there is a promise for unlimited discovery and definition. One thing is for sure: we will not be going backwards, any more than the dinosaurs could!