Last weekend, I spent some time at the Mind, Body, Spirit Festival held in Sydney.
For those unfamiliar with the festival, it is billed as “Australia’s largest health, well-being and natural therapies show” and has hundreds of exhibitors offering any number of treatments for your mind, body and spirit.
Everything imaginable is on offer!
For the mind, there are seminars on offer, life coaching and books on successful living.
For the body, you can book a reflexology session and have someone massage the relevant pressure points on hands or feet, or buy any number of take-home massage chairs, cushions and the like. You can buy the latest “superfoods”, juicing kits and organic teas. There are essential oils, creams to treat any number of aches and pains, posture correctors and more!
And, for the spirit, there are meditation rooms, prayer stations, psychics, astrologers, tarot readers, crystal healings, angel charts and everything in between.
It is an eclectic bunch, to be sure, and most stallholders are friendly, co-operative and generous with the “competition”, as I found when volunteering at the Catholic Spirituality stall.
And it is immensely popular. The Mind, Body, Spirit Festival is run over four days, twice a year, in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. Even though it has been around for many years, it still attracts thousands of visitors each and every day, who pay a $20 entry fee and spend hundreds of dollars on the various goods and services available. It attracts people of all faiths and none, young and old.
It has broad appeal, and is indicative of a culture which is seeking good things on an holistic basis.
As I looked around the stalls, there was one recurring theme which particularly caught my attention and on which I have been reflecting for a few days.
With the exception of a few, the therapies offered by the stalls required very little input on the part of the person receiving the treatment. You could get a psychic reading on the spot. Your emotional baggage could be cleared instantaneously and for good. You could drink this particular elixir every day for a week and you would start to feel better.
Essentially, you could look or feel better – physically and spiritually – without really having to change your behaviour at all.
If a psychic can already tell you what will happen in your future, there is little need for you to make day-to-day choices which might make it more likely that you will obtain the future you seek.
If a healer can cure your emotional baggage forever, there is no reason to work hard on relationships and to cultivate virtue.
If a shake can give you all of the multivitamins and other nutrients you need to be healthy, there is no need to ensure you eat the right foods.
Additionally, the results offered are largely instantaneous. And this is particularly true for the “spiritual” offerings.
The reason it struck me so profoundly is that I don’t know how we respond to it as Catholics.
But what do we have to say to a person who is drawn in by the promise of immediate results with only passive input from the recipient?
The free and undeserved gift of salvation given to us through Christ Who offered Himself on the cross for us requires a response from us: we are not passive recipients of this salvation, but we are called to take up our own cross as well.
Catholicism does not offer immediate satisfaction. We instead offer a life-long pilgrimage of joys and sorrows, a struggle for sanctity, and a knowledge that we will never be truly satisfied until we are in heaven.
Indeed, we are offering the exact opposite of one of the key themes in the Mind, Body, Spirit Festival.
Our point of departure from the other offerings at the Mind, Body, Spirit Festival seemed to be that we were not really offering anything. We were not positioning ourselves as coming from a place of superior ability, capable of healing others. Rather, we are admitting that we, too, are in need of healing (we just happen to know where to find it!)
It could be our key weakness, but it could equally be our key strength.
I may be an optimist, but I think that deep down, people know that there are no quick and easy solutions to the biggest questions in their life. And I hope that they come to realise that a quick and easy fix to the things which cause them the greatest pain would not be in accordance with their dignity.
I think it’s a wonderful thing that there is a Catholic presence at the festival. If people are looking for happiness, peace and wholeness, those of us who know that true fulfillment is found in Christ have a responsibility to share that with others – particularly in those spaces they are approaching to seek answers.